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State Supreme Court to Address Damage Cap Retroactivity

Earlier this year, Florida’s Supreme Court determined that a portion of the state’s law regarding caps on damages for medical malpractice was unconstitutional. This was a major win for those injured by medical professionals in that state. The decision allows some of the people who are harmed when undergoing medical treatment to recover more fully for their losses. A rush of so-called “tort reform” had stripped many people who had been seriously injured of their rights. Now the Court has decided that it will address another aspect of the portions of the law that remain intact: whether the caps are retroactive.

Med Mal Case Details

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the Court has taken on the case of Kimberly Ann Miles. Ms. Miles suffered complications in early 2003 after what she says was an unnecessary surgery doctors performed on her leg. A jury of Ms. Miles’ peers determined, after hearing all of the evidence in the case and being instructed on the appropriate law that Ms. Miles is entitled to receive $1.5 million due to the pain and suffering caused by her doctor’s malpractice. However, even though a jury decided that was the appropriate amount, judges reduced her award by a full sixty-seven percent. The judges were following the legislature’s malpractice cap law. But the issue is, the malpractice cap law did not pass until after Ms. Miles’ doctor committed malpractice and Ms. Miles suffered her injuries. So now, the Florida Supreme Court is going to decide whether the cap law is retroactive: that is, does it apply to malpractice that occurred before the law was written?

News Station WUSF reports that Ms. Miles attorneys are arguing that applying the law retroactively to Ms. Miles would violate her due process rights. This due process argument is different from the argument that was successful in bringing down part of the damage cap law earlier this year. The earlier case challenged the law on equal protection grounds in wrongful death cases. Justice Lewis wrote for the Court that the $1 million cap was unconstitutional because “it imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence” affects more than one person. He explained that the cap resulted in some injured people receiving full compensation while arbitrarily denying others compensation, meaning people were not treated equally before the law.

This sort of equal protection claim would not really apply in Ms. Miles case because she is the only one who was awarded damages for pain and suffering, since she survived her injuries. This is different form a wrongful death case where there may be multiple relatives who are all seeking recovery for similar damages at the same time. That is why a new approach was needed to attack the unfair and unreasonable law in Ms. Miles case. Unfortunately, it will likely be many months before the court reaches a decision.

Related Posts:

Florida Joins Illinois in Rejecting Medical Malpractice Damage Caps as Unconstitutional

Medical Malpractice Verdict Highlights Problems With Malpractice Caps