08/29/2011 // Tallahassee, Florida, US // Florida Justice Association // Florida Justice Association
FLORIDA SUPREME COURT TO RULE ON MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CAPS
In 2003, the Florida Legislature passed legislation imposing arbitrary limits on noneconomic damages for medical negligence claims. These caps on damages, $500,000 per claimant and practitioner with an aggregate cap of $1,000,000, were vehemently opposed by the Florida Justice Association. The constitutionality of the 2003 legislation has never been decided in a Florida state appellate court; however, it will soon be decided by the Florida Supreme Court. The FJA has filed an amicus curiae brief opposing caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.
FACTS OF THE CASE
In June 2005, Michelle McCall began receiving prenatal medical care at a United States Air Force clinic as an Air Force dependent. On February 21, 2006, test results revealed that Ms. McCall’s blood pressure was high, requiring labor be induced immediately. Ms. McCall remained at the family practice department instead of being transferred to the OB/GYN department. When it was determined that Ms. McCall would require a cesarean section, an Air Force obstetrician was called. Unfortunately, he was unavailable, so the family practice department opted to wait and deliver the child vaginally instead of calling another doctor.
Following the birth of a healthy boy, family members noticed an enormous loss of blood by Ms. McCall. The medical staff dismissed the family’s concerns, claiming her condition was stable. Following complications delivering the placenta, Ms. McCall’s blood pressure began to drop rapidly and remained dangerously low for an extended period of time. The nurse anesthetist monitoring Ms. McCall’s vital signs failed to notify staff, and Ms. McCall’s doctor failed to inquire of the vital signs.
Subsequently, the assigned doctor requested an “immediate” blood count. One hour and twenty minutes later, a nurse finally attempted to draw blood from Ms. McCall, who was unresponsive. She had gone into shock and cardiac arrest due to severe blood loss. Ms. McCall never regained consciousness and was removed from life support on February 27, 2006.
The McCall family filed suit in federal court. In addition to actual damages, the court found noneconomic damages totaling $2,000,000, but limited them to $1,000,000 due to Florida’s medical malpractice statute. Plaintiffs appealed the case to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the cap on damages was unconstitutional.
The appellate court ruled in favor of the defendant on federal constitutional grounds; however, the three judge panel certified four state constitutional questions to the Florida Supreme Court. The questions to the state high court are whether the medical malpractice statute violates the Florida’s Constitution’s provisions pertaining to equal protection, access to the courts, right to trial by jury, and separation of powers. The opinion can be read here.
The legal staff at the FJA has always believed that our best chance at overturning this draconian law is before the Florida Supreme Court. In addition to the plaintiff’s brief, which was submitted on July 29, 2011, the FJA and other victims’ rights groups have submitted briefs this past month.
• FJA Brief: The FJA along with the AARP, the Florida AFL-CIO and Florida AFSCME filed an amicus curiae brief on August 02, 2011.
• ABA Brief: The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief arguing against the medical malpractice caps on noneconomic damages on August 04, 2011.
• FCAN Brief: The Florida Consumer Action Network and Floridians for Patient Protection filed an amicus brief on August 05, 2011.
• Academic Brief: An academic brief was filed on August 08, 2011 by various professors of law and social science at universities and law schools throughout the United States.
The Florida Supreme Court has not yet set oral arguments, but the Florida Justice Association continues to monitor the case and will provide updates when information becomes available.
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