Are There Caps for Medical Malpractice Claims in Florida?

Many states impose “caps,” or limits, on the amount of damages a plaintiff can receive for medical malpractice. The purpose of the cap is to prevent lawsuits from impeding a healthcare center’s ability to help patients, as well as to discourage fraudulent medical malpractice claims by limiting how much a plaintiff can win. If you or someone you love has been the victim of medical malpractice in Florida, the question of damage caps can become a very personal one. The state’s law on the subject recently changed with a 2017 Florida Supreme Court ruling. Here’s what you need to know:

Florida’s Past Medical Malpractice Damage Caps

Up until mid-2017, Florida law placed a cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice claims. Florida Statutes Section 766.118 limited noneconomic damages for practitioner negligence to $500,000 per claimant, regardless of how many claimants or defendants were involved in the case. The cap increased to $1,000,000 if the plaintiff entered into a permanent vegetative state, died, or suffered “particularly severe” noneconomic harm as a result of malpractice.

If the lawsuit involved a non-practitioner defendant (such as a hospital or medical center), the damage cap was $750,000 per claimant. The cap increased to $1.5 million if the circumstances listed above were present. If the plaintiff suffered catastrophic injuries, the cap could increase to $1.5 million even if the patient didn’t enter into a vegetative state or die. Cases against emergency rooms and workers came with a $150,000 noneconomic damage cap per claimant or a $300,000 cap across multiple claimants.

Florida’s medical malpractice damage caps applied only to noneconomic damages, or those that are not financial in nature. Chronic pain, emotional suffering and distress, mental anguish, post-traumatic stress, psychological disorders, nightmares, trouble sleeping, lost quality of life, loss of consortium, and lost enjoyment of life are all examples of noneconomic damages that might have fallen under Florida’s damage cap. Noneconomic damages are often the most severe and long-lasting for a patient, making a cap unfair for claimants. Luckily, Florida changed its law in 2017.

As of June 2017: No Caps on Medical Malpractice Damages in Florida

On June 8, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court ruled medical malpractice damage caps unconstitutional in North Broward Hosp. Dist. v. Kalitan. The case went to Florida’s highest appellate court, which ultimately found that damage caps “reduce awards for plaintiffs who sustain the most drastic injuries.” The ruling struck down Florida’s prior statute, which had been one of Gov. Jeb Bush’s largest policy victories during his time as Florida governor in 2003.

The case involved a patient, Susan Kalitan, who had gone to a North Broward hospital for a routine carpal tunnel syndrome wrist surgery. During the procedure, an anesthesia tube stabbed and punctured Kalitan’s esophagus. Doctors didn’t notice the injury and gave Kalitan pain medications when she complained of severe pain in her chest and back.

The day after doctors sent Kalitan home, she fell unconscious and a neighbor rushed her to the hospital. Kalitan survived and later filed a claim against the hospital for medical malpractice, seeking recovery for her catastrophic injury. The jury in Kalitan’s case awarded her $4 million in past and future pain and suffering damages. However, she ended up with only about $700,000 because of Florida’s damages cap.

When the Florida Supreme Court ruled the cap unconstitutional in her case, it changed the future for medical malpractice claims. Today, injured parties can pursue fair and full compensation for all damages, without a cap infringing upon recovery. Plaintiffs will get the compensation they deserve and more law firms will be willing to take on these expensive cases due to better profitability. Florida’s lift of the cap will affect everyone who brings a medical malpractice claim in the future.