Florida Supreme Court Deems Noneconomic Damages Cap Unconstitutional in Wrongful Death Case – McCall v. United States

In Estate of McCall v. Unites States of America, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits ruling it a violation of the State Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

Noneconomic damages typically consist of nonmonetary damages the victim has suffered such as pain and suffering, physical impairment, mental anguish, loss of consortium, loss of enjoyment and other losses that do not directly relate to pecuniary losses.

In 2003, the Florida legislature had passed a statute limiting the noneconomic damages plaintiffs could recover in medical malpractice cases. Under the statute, claimants could recover $500,000 or $1,000,000 in certain circumstances such as a wrongful death case.

In mid 2005, Plaintiff McCall was pregnant and receiving care at an air-force base hospital. Plaintiff had a normal pregnancy with no complications until her last trimester. During the last trimester, it was discovered that plaintiff was suffering from hypertension and severe preeclampsia. Due to plaintiff’s condition, physicians induced labor. Plaintiff delivered a healthy baby. However, during the birth, plaintiff suffered complications and lost a lot of blood. After the delivery, plaintiff went into shock and cardiac arrest, which ultimately led to her death.

Plaintiff’s estate filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). At the end of the bench trial, the District Court ruled that the United States Air Force was liable and owed the plaintiff’s estate economic damages in the amount of almost $1,000,000. The District Court also determined that plaintiff’s noneconomic damages amounted to $2,000,000. However, due to the Florida cap on noneconomic damages for medical malpractice claims, the District Court had to reduce the noneconomic damages award to $1,000,000 – the maximum allowed at the time by state law.

Plaintiff’s estate appealed. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower’s courts findings but certified the question of noneconomic damages with regard to the Equal Protection Clause.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the statutory cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice and wrongful death cases did in fact violate the Equal Protection Clause of the State Constitution. The Court explained that the state’s cap on noneconomic damages due to wrongful death failed because:

“[I]t imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gives rise to multiple claimants. In such circumstances, medical malpractice claimants do not receive the same rights to full compensation because of arbitrarily diminished compensation for legally cognizable claims.”

Furthermore, the Court held that the noneconomic damages statutory cap bore no rational relationship to the purpose stated, which was allegedly the medical malpractice insurance crisis occurring in the state of Florida. In sum, the Court concluded that the cap on noneconomic damages did not serve any legitimate state interest.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, it is import to consult an experienced attorney who can help you with your case. South Florida attorney Robert Dixon is committed to helping victims and their families recover what they deserve for the negligence of physicians and any other medical professionals. Medical malpractice cases are complicated and with the recent changes in the law, it is more important than ever to consult a qualified lawyer. To find out about your options, contact us online or call us today at 1-877-499-HURT (4878).

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