Florida Supreme Court Overturns Medical Malpractice Caps
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
Florida’s Supreme Court ruled 5-to-2 in favor of invalidating medical malpractice caps on non-economic damages. The initial legislation was put into place in 2003 by the Florida Legislature due to an alleged medical malpractice crisis. The caps limited payments to patients for non-economic damages at $500,000 in most malpractice cases and $1 million in cases involving deaths. However, on March 13, 2014, the Supreme Court concluded that the cap on wrongful death non-economic damages violates the state Constitution’s equal protection clause.
This decision by Florida’s highest court makes Florida the seventh state to make such a ruling that such limitations are unconstitutional. There are 35 states that currently have some type of cap on medical malpractice awards.
This decision stirs up harsh criticism from doctors, and praise from trial attorneys.
History of the Caps on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits.
The damages caps were initiated in 2003 by former Governor Jeb Bush, backed by doctors, hospitals and insurance companies. Supporters argued that reforms were needed to curb the outbreak of medical malpractice costs. The caps were also initiated in an effort to lower the cost of malpractice insurance rates and to keep doctors from moving out of the state. According to Health News Florida with the caps, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits fell, which was interpreted as a sign that the caps discouraged trivial lawsuits. To read the entire article from Health News Florida, click here.
Harsh Words from Florida Medical Association.
The Florida Medical Association (FMA) President Alan Harmon, M.D., wasted no time in releasing a statement of discontent. In a press release Dr. Harmon stated, “The FMA is extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision. This decision imperils our considerable efforts to make Florida the best state in the nation for physicians to practice medicine and for patients to receive care.”
Dr. Harmon mentions that without caps to help regulate out-of-control litigation, many physicians may move out of the state, and few out-of-state physicians will look to locate to Florida.
To read the full press release from Dr. Harmon, click here.
What This Means for Health Care Professionals.
Now that medical malpractice caps are gone, trial lawyers will be refocusing on lawsuits. Health care professionals need to carefully evaluate each patient before treatment begins, even consulting with specialists when necessary. Detailed documentation is also important. Make sure everything is properly charted in the patient’s medical record. As a health care professional, its important to have an open line of communication with your patient, so that he or she knows and understands his or her medical treatment.
Get Professional Liability Insurance Now.
It is now more important than ever to have good professional liability insurance. The truth of the matter is that all health care professionals should protect themselves by obtaining a personal professional liability insurance policy. A good policy will provide medical malpractice and, very importantly, licensure protection coverage. The cost on these policies varies, but it is generally quite affordable, often costing little more that $10 to $15 a month. If you do not already have it, call Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO), Lloyd’s of London, CPH & Associates Insurance, or another insurance company to discuss obtaining professional liability insurance.
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In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company. If allowed, we will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company.
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As a health care provider, how do you feel about the malpractice caps being thrown out? Will it make you think twice about taking certain cases or treating certain patients? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
Gentry, Carol. “FL Malpractice Caps Thrown Out.” Health News Florida. (March 14, 2014). From: http://health.wusf.usf.edu/post/fl-malpractice-caps-thrown-out
Klas, Mary Ellen. “Florida Supreme Court Tosses Out Medical Malpractice Cap on Damages.” Tampa Bay Times. (March 13, 2014). From: http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/florida-supreme-court-tosses-out-medical-malpractice-cap-on-damages/2170030
VanSickle, Erin. “Supreme Court Invalidates Medical Liability Caps.” Florida Medical Association. (March 13, 2014). From: http://www.flmedical.org/Supreme_Court_invalidates_caps.aspx
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
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