Tort reform victory signals future changes in med mal cases
Medical malpractice and plaintiffs’ lawyers scored a huge win last month following the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling which struck the statutory cap on damages in medical malpractice cases. This is a major victory for Tort Reform in a jurisdiction noted for its volume of litigation. In Estate of McCall v. United States, 2014 Fla. LEXIS 933 (Fla. Mar. 13, 2014). The case involved the family of a young woman who died during childbirth at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center in February 2006. Michelle McCall was admitted to the hospital with severe preeclampsia and went into severe shock and cardiac arrest due to extreme blood loss following her delivery. McCall’s estate (her family) filed a wrongful death and medical malpractice claim in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, which ruled that the plaintiffs’ financial losses totaled $980,462.40. The court also determined that the family’s non-financial damages amounted to $2 million, but limited their recovery to half that amount, based on Section 766.118, Florida’s statutory cap on wrongful death non-economic damages from medical malpractice claims.
However, following an appellate court’s decision that there was no controlling precedent for the statutory cap, the Florida Supreme Court found that Section 766.118’s cap on wrongful death non-economic damages violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution. According to the ruling, the cap fails since “it imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gives rise to multiple claimants.” The court stated that in these cases, claimants with valid cases are denied equal rights to full compensation and should not receive lesser amounts. The court stated that the cap bears no rational relationship to the alleged medical malpractice insurance crises in Florida, (which the cap was initially intended to address), and found “no available data” supporting an insurance crisis that required statutory caps for the public necessity.
Regardless, the decision is likely to set the tone for future wrongful death suits and medical malpractice cases. The ruling comes just as the Florida legislature is set to vote on a new health care law affording patients the right to sue physicians. Critics say the McCall case will also cause major spikes in insurance premiums, causing doctors to forgo insurance options, and analysts point to the impact the case will have on other state’s high court rulings as they handle tort reform challenges.
About the contributing authors
Ann Mizner McKay is the General Counsel and Senior Vice President at WGA. She manages the legal affairs of the company and also serves as the Claims Practice Leader for WGA. She has extensive experience and knowledge in various types of risks including technology, healthcare, business service, environmental, energy, life sciences, financial institutions and other business risks.