Florida Supreme Court Rules Against Capping Medical Malpractice Damages
Plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases do not seek legal action on a whim. To win this type of case often takes years, and frequently exacts a large psychological and physical toll on the victims and their families. While the victims need the compensation demanded to cover past and future financial losses from medical expenses and lost wages, for example, there is also a reasonable desire to underscore, for the education of the negligent doctor and the benefit of the public, that the treatment was not sufficient or acceptable. Monetary damages cannot undo the injury the plaintiff suffered, but it does make life a little easier. Consequently, any restriction on the ability of an injured plaintiff to recover damages has a big impact on his/her long-term well being. In 2003, the state legislature, citing out-of-control malpractice insurance rates, passed a law that limited damages for pain and suffering, usually a substantial portion of a damage award, in malpractice cases. The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled this cap on damages was unconstitutional, extending an earlier ruling which came to the same conclusion for similar caps on damages in wrongful death cases. This ruling will have a significant impact on the amount of damages an injured party in malpractice cases could potentially collect. An overview of the two major damage categories applicable to medical malpractice cases, and the types of evidence needed to prove them, will follow below.
As the name implies, economic damages refer to quantifiable financial losses a person suffered as a direct result of an injury. Under Florida law, an injured plaintiff could be entitled to compensation related to:
- past and future medical bills;
- 80 percent of lost wages; and
- the loss of one’s earning capacity, e., when a person can no longer work due to the injuries.
Collecting these damages, assuming the doctor was found negligent, requires the plaintiff to present evidence that the damages exist. Examples of evidence that would support economic losses include: copies of medical bills, treatment plans, vocational assessments and a history of wages earned prior to the injury.
Non-economic damages relate to injuries that are not quantifiable, and thus assigning a monetary amount to compensate for them is subjective and difficult. Consequently, proving them is not as straightforward as the proof needed for economic damages, which means a plaintiff commonly must present a greater amount of evidence that is also compelling to a jury. Examples of injuries that fall into this category include:
- pain and suffering;
- physical impairment;
- mental anguish;
- disfigurement; and
- loss of the capacity to enjoy life.
Before the Florida Supreme Court issued its recent decision, plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases could receive no more than $1 million for non-economic damages. Even without the caps, the amount a plaintiff can recover for non-economic damages is very fact-specific, and will greatly depend on the nature and extent of the person’s injuries, the recovery time, and the long-term physical and emotional consequences of the injury. The types of evidence that are commonly presented to prove these types of damages include:
- testimony from the injured party, family and friends;
- written accounts of pain and debilitation by the injured party;
- photographs and videos of the injuries and any related physical/mental limitations; and
- testimony from experts and treating physicians on the suffering someone with a particular injury is expected to experience and the specific suffering of the injured party.
Get Legal Advice
Mounting a medical malpractice case is a large undertaking, and an experienced medical malpractice attorney is best able to present the case in the strongest way possible. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado understands how difficult medical injuries are, and will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us for a free consultation.