Second District Court of Appeal Finds Statutory Cap on Non-Economic Damages Unconstitutional in Florida

There are two types of damages in Florida medical malpractice cases:  non-economic and economic. Non-economic damages are for things like disfigurement, permanent disability, blindness, loss of a limb, trauma, paralysis, or physical pain and suffering. Economic damages compensate damages that can be verified, like loss of income or the cost of medical care. In a recent medical malpractice case involving negligent obstetrical care, Port Charlotte HMA v. Iala Suarez (Case No. 2D15-3434),the Second District Court of Appeal found the statutory cap on non-economic damages in section 766.118 to be unconstitutional. This decision mirrors a similar holding in the Fourth District, North Broward Hospital v. Kalitan, 174 So. 3d 403 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015), which extended the state Supreme Court’s ruling in a wrongful death case to personal injury medical malpractice cases.

In this case, a pregnant mother went to the same hospital three times in a 12-day period with symptoms of preeclampsia and the threat of a premature delivery. Despite these symptoms, the health care providers in this hospital did not administer antenatal corticosteroids to enhance the development of the fetal baby’s brain and lungs. The hospital also failed to transfer the expectant mother to a facility that could handle a premature birth at less than 33 weeks of gestational age. The child was born at 26 weeks and has severe neurological impairments that will cause her to be dependent on others for 24-hour care.

The mother filed suit against the hospital and two of the doctors for herself and her child. One doctor settled, while the other doctor and the hospital proceeded to trial. At trial, the jury awarded over $13 million in damages, including $1.25 million in non-economic damages, to the daughter, as well as over $9 million in damages to the mother, including $4 million in non-economic damages. After the conclusion of the trial, the hospital moved to reduce the jury verdict under section 766.118, claiming the non-economic damages should be limited to $1.5 million. The injured mother and daughter argued that the cap was unconstitutional. The trial court agreed, declining to apply the statutory cap. The court, however, did agree to offset the economic damages against the hospital in the amount of $193,395.30.

The hospital appealed the judge’s ruling declining to cap the non-economic damages, and the mother and child appealed the ruling to offset the economic damages. The Second District agreed with the Fourth’s reasoning in Kalitan that section 766.118 covered both wrongful death and personal injury damages, and there was no distinction between them. The appellate court found that the cap violated the equal protection clause of Florida’s constitution, and it allowed the un-capped non-economic damages award to stand. The appellate court also reversed the economic damages setoff, stating that section 768.81 of the Florida statutes did not apply here and allowing the injured woman and the daughter to receive all of the jury award.

The Port St. Lucie personal injury attorneys at Donaldson & Weston can aggressively fight for all of the damages you deserve. Call our office today at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Court of Appeal Reviews Drunk Driver Motorcycle Accident Case, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, August 4, 2016

Wrongful Death Appeal Discusses Statutory Requirements for Expert Witnesses in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, July 13, 2016