Florida Appeals Court Reiterates Opposition to Medical Malpractice Caps

Florida courts continue to push back against the legislature’s imposition of caps on “noneconomic” damages in medical malpractice cases. Last year the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal held such caps were unconstitutional. That case is now on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. But in the meantime, the Fourth District has once again rejected a trial judge’s reduction of a damage award based on the legislature’s cap.

Child With Permanent Brain Damage Entitled to Full Damage Award

The victim in this case was a child. In 2006, the child’s mother brought him to a hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida. The child exhibited a high fever as well as vomiting and a “stiff neck.” The child remained in the Boynton Beach hospital for two weeks, but when his condition worsened, he was transferred to a children’s hospital in Miami.

At the Miami hospital, the doctors determined the child suffered a stroke while under treatment at the Boynton Beach hospital. The doctors later determined the child had two versions of the herpes virus. The first hospital’s failure to identify and treat these viruses was the likely cause of the stroke. As a result of the stroke, the child suffered permanent brain damage and will require constant supervision for the remainder of his life.

The mother sued the Boynton Beach hospital and two of the doctors there who treated her son. The jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded total damages of approximately $28 million. This included $6 million apiece to the mother and child for “past and future noneconomic damages.” The trial judge, however, reduced this award to $500,000 each, citing Florida’s statutory cap on noneconomic damages.

One of the doctors found liable for malpractice appealed the entire damage award, for which she was found 75 percent liable by the jury. The mother also appealed the judge’s decision to reduce the award of noneconomic damages. The Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected the doctor’s appeal but granted the mother’s appeal.

Among other things, the doctor argued the jury’s award for future medical costs—more than $16 million—should have been reduced to account for “free or low-cost medical care” the child would receive from government benefit programs like Medicaid. The trial judge refused to consider this “evidence” in upholding the jury’s award. The Fourth District agreed with the trial judge on this point.

As for the mother’s appeal, the Fourth District cited its prior decision striking down the Florida legislature’s cap on noneconomic damages as unconstitutional. The appeals court reiterated its view that such caps violate the principle of “equal protection” under the law as required by the federal and state constitutions. The court therefore restored the jury’s original damages award in its entirety.

Get Help from a Florida Medical Malpractice Lawyer

While the future of caps on noneconomic damages remains uncertain, these recent decisions show how many Florida judges are deeply skeptical of legislative attempts to interfere with the rights of victims to seek full compensation from negligent medical providers. If you or a family member has suffered due to such negligence, you should speak with an experienced Clearwater medical malpractice lawyer right away. Contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A., if you need help.

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