Caps on Wrongful Death Compensation Declared Unconstitutional in FL

The Florida Supreme Court has declared caps placed on compensation for wrongful death cases — those in which a doctor’s mistake led to patient death — are unconstitutional.

“The cap on non-economic damages serves no purpose other than to arbitrarily punish the most grievously injured or their surviving family members,” according to the court.

Florida is at least the seventh state to declare medical malpractice award limits unconstitutional. The National Conference of State Legislatures shows that 35 of 50 states have a cap on medical malpractice awards. The Florida ruling doesn’t affect other states because it is based on the state’s constitution.

The limits were part of a law created by Governor Jeb Bush in 2003 to lower the cost of medical malpractice insurance and to keep doctors from moving out of state. But in a 5-2 decision on Thursday, the court said the caps violate the equal protection guarantee in the state’s constitution.

The case that prompted the ruling involved a lawsuit filed against the federal government by the parents of a woman who died after giving birth in 2006 — a jury awarded her parents and son $2 million, but a federal court lowered the award to $1 million and cited the state law.

Non-economic damages are for problems such as pain and suffering, whereas economic awards refer to lost wages and medical bills. Florida law had doctors’ liability for non-economic damages capped at $500,000 in most malpractice cases and $1 million in wrongful death cases.

The ruling does not address caps in malpractice cases that don’t involve a patient death.

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