The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the challenge of the family of a medical malpractice victim who claimed the cap violated state and federal laws.
The court found that the Florida law, which caps noneconomic damages at about $500,000 per doctor in most cases, “passes muster” and dismissed claims from the victim’s family that the law robbed them of their right to be justly compensated for medical mistakes.
The order also directed the Florida Supreme Court to address several state issues that it said were left unsettled, such as whether the cap violates the family’s right to a jury trial under Florida law.
The lawsuit was filed by the family of Michelle McCall, who died at a Florida hospital in February 2006 after giving birth to her son. The family claimed a nurse failed to inform a doctor that McCall’s blood pressure was dangerously low during a surgical procedure, and that a doctor never checked her vital signs himself.
After a two-day bench trial, a Florida judge found that McCall’s estate was entitled to $2 million in noneconomic damages. But the judge said the award had to be limited to $1 million because of Florida’s cap.
Florida lawmakers adopted the new rules in 2003 after a contentious fight between doctors and lawyers groups over rising malpractice insurance premiums. The law allows victims to receive any award for economic damages, such as lost wages, but restricts the amount of noneconomic damages for, say, pain and suffering based on a complicated formula that depends on the case.
The family filed a lawsuit claiming the cap violated their right to access the courts, and contended the cap should be struck down because lawmakers had no reason to believe the cap would reduce the cost of medical malpractice insurance.
But the three-judge panel’s 19-page page opinion rejected that argument, citing a report by a Florida House Committee that found health care providers were changing the scope of their practice, leaving Florida or retiring because of rising premiums.
“The legislature identified a legitimate governmental purpose in passing the statutory cap, namely to reduce the cost of medical malpractice premiums and health care,” it said. “The means that Florida chose, a per incident cap on noneconomic damages, bears a rational relationship to that end.”