While tort reformers in the nation’s capital continue their attempts to prevent those injured by medical negligence from receiving full compensation for their injuries, the Florida Supreme Court is doing just the opposite. On June 8, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court joined the growing list of states whose courts are protecting their citizens who have been injured by medical negligence by declaring statutory caps on noneconomic damages suffered by medical malpractice victims unconstitutional – even when the malpractice does not result in death. Similar caps in the wrongful death context were declared unconstitutional in Florida in 2014 in the case of Estate of McCall v. United States.
Noneconomic damages are “nonfinancial losses that would not have occurred but for the injury giving rise to the cause of action, including pain and suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish, disfigurement, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life, and other nonfinancial losses to the extent the claimant is entitled to recover such damages under general law, including the Wrongful Death Act,” according to Fla. Stat. 766.202(8).
The Court found that the caps, just like in the wrongful death context, violate the State’s constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. In reaching this conclusion, the Court followed its opinion in McCall and found that the statutory cap “imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties” by allowing those who suffer minor injuries to fully recover their damages, while arbitrarily preventing the most seriously injured victims – those most in need – from doing the same.
When dealing with an equal protection issue, it is important to remember that not all forms of discrimination are created equal. After all, Florida discriminates against those under 21 by denying them the right to purchase alcohol and those under 16 by denying them the right to obtain a driver’s license. We allow for these types of discrimination more freely because age (in most contexts) is not a “suspect class” – such as race, sex, or religion.
That is why it is important that the Court also found the caps “do not bear a rational relationship to the stated purpose that the cap is purported to address.” This language is key because it informs us that the statutory caps do not pass what is known as “The Rational Basis Test”. Of the three levels of review used in the equal protection context, “The Rational Basis Test” is the most deferential to the legislature (most difficult to overturn) and is used when the statute in question does not implicate a suspect class.
In passing the statutory caps, the Legislature’s stated objective was to combat a perceived medical malpractice crisis where, it claimed, doctors were leaving the state, retiring early, or refusing to perform high-risk procedures because malpractice insurance premiums were too high. However, the Court found that “there is no mechanism in place to assure that savings are actually passed on from the insurance companies to the doctors.”
Therefore, since the caps were imposed, we have seen an increase in insurance company income but no “direct correlation between damage caps and reduced medical malpractice premiums.” In other words, insurance companies are profiting on the backs of those Floridians most severely injured by medical negligence, with no benefit to the State.
In striking down the statutory caps, the Florida Supreme Court has ensured that every Floridian who is injured by medical negligence is entitled to recover to the full extent of their injuries and damages. If you or someone you know has been injured due to medical negligence, visit us at PutClientsFirst.com or call us at 352-505-4515 to see how Glassman & Zissimopulos Law can help you today.