Saturday, March 15, 2014

Florida Supreme Court finds that damages caps in medical malpractice cases are unconstitutional

In an opinion that refutes many of the myths usually cited by tort reformers in favor of imposing caps on damages, the Florida Supreme Court has found that the caps are unconstitutional.  The caps were part of reforms approved last year reportedly "in an effort to lower the cost of malpractice insurance rates and to keep doctors from moving out of state."

The fact that both these arguments (and other similar ones) have been debunked over and over again by many different studies hasn't stopped tort reformers from advancing legislation the real purpose of which is to make it more difficult for victims of medical malpractice to get access to adequate compensation.  (Go here and scroll down for links to many such studies.)

Fortunately, every now and then courts make things right again.  Last week, the Florida Supreme Court held that caps on non-economic damages "serve[] no purpose other than to arbitrarily punish the most grievously injured or their surviving family members."  Or, in other words, that the real purpose of the statute is to make it more difficult for victims to get access to adequate compensation, but, er, I repeat myself.

Some of the court's statements also address the other typical tort reformer claims.  For example, the court finds that the claim that increases in medical malpractice liability insurance rates are forcing physicians to practice medicine without professional liability insurance, to leave Florida, or to retire early from the practice of medicine is unsupported. The court also found that "available data indicates ...the finding that non economic damage awards by juries are a primary cause of the purported medical malpractice crisis in Florida is most questionable."

Finally, the court also questioned whether imposing caps on damages would lower malpractice insurance rates holding that "the record and available data fail to establish a legitimate relationship between the cap on wrongful death non economic damages and the lowering of medical malpractice insurance premiums."

You can read the court's opinion here.

The PopTort has a comment on the opinion here.

UPDATE 3/20/14:  About Lawsuits has more coverage here.

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