Florida Appellate Court Affirms Cap On Noneconomic Damages In Medical Malpractice Arbitration Cases

Florida Statute Section 766.118(2) states: “LIMITATION ON NONECONOMIC DAMAGES FOR NEGLIGENCE OF PRACTITIONERS.— (a) With respect to a cause of action for personal injury or wrongful death arising from medical negligence of practitioners, regardless of the number of such practitioner defendants, noneconomic damages shall not exceed $500,000 per claimant. No practitioner shall be liable for more than $500,000 in noneconomic damages, regardless of the number of claimants.”

Florida Statute 766.207 applies to “Voluntary binding arbitration of medical negligence claims.”

Florida Statute Section 766.209(4)(a)(4) states: “If the claimant rejects a defendant’s offer to enter voluntary binding arbitration: (a) The damages awardable at trial shall be limited to net economic damages, plus noneconomic damages not to exceed $350,000 per incident. The Legislature expressly finds that such conditional limit on noneconomic damages is warranted by the claimant’s refusal to accept arbitration, and represents an appropriate balance between the interests of all patients who ultimately pay for medical negligence losses and the interests of those patients who are injured as a result of medical negligence.”

The Florida Supreme Court has held in previous cases that Section 766.118 was unconstitutional as it pertained to noneconomic damages in wrongful death cases (“Even if these conclusions by the Legislature are assumed to be true, and Florida was facing a dangerous risk of physician shortage due to malpractice premiums, we conclude that section 766.118 still violates Florida’s Equal Protection Clause because the available evidence fails to establish a rational relationship between a cap on non-economic damages and alleviation of the purported crisis”) and in personal injury cases (“the statutory caps in section 766.118 unreasonably and arbitrarily limit recovery of those most grievously injured by medical negligence … the caps in section 766.118 “violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution””).

Nonetheless, the Third District Court of Appeal State of Florida (“Florida Appellate Court”) held in its opinion filed on December 18, 2019 that in the case it was deciding, where the plaintiff rejected the defendant’s offer to arbitrate, “In each of these cases [where the Florida Supreme Court declared the cap on noneconomic damages in wrong death and personal injury cases as violating Florida’s Equal Protection Clause], the Florida Supreme Court addressed the cap on noneconomic damages in sections 766.118(2) and (3) rather than the two statutory provisions declared unconstitutional in the present case … The statutes presently under review, however, are within a voluntary arbitration remedy that was not considered by the Florida Supreme Court” and because “our standard of review and policy of restraint concerning constitutional questions, we reverse in part and remand the order and final judgment below. More specifically, we reverse the trial court’s determination that sections 766.207(7)(k) and 766.209(4)(a) violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution, we remand for the reduction of the jury verdict.”

Source Poole v. DeFranko, No. 3D18-1809.

We predict (hope) that this case will ultimately be determined by the Florida Supreme Court, and that the Florida Supreme Court will apply its reasoning in its prior cases and thereby reverse the Florida Appellate Court. Florida medical malpractice plaintiffs have no control over, or say in, whether medical malpractice defendants may offer to arbitrate the claims against them, and Florida medical malpractice defendants should not have the ability to unilaterally control (limit) the noneconomic damages that their victims may recover.

If you or a loved one may have been injured as a result of medical malpractice in Florida, you should promptly find a local Florida medical malpractice lawyer who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a Florida medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 at 5:24 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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