Is the Medical Malpractice Cap Constitutional?

Suffering an injury of any kind is difficult, especially if it could have been avoided. There are myriads of accident types that could lead to a personal injury lawsuit, but medical malpractice claims are one of the most common. By definition, medical malpractice refers to professional negligence committed by a medical professional, and victims of medical malpractice are often entitled to monetary compensation for their medical expenses, emotional damages, etc.

In 2003, Florida enacted a law that placed a cap on non-economic damage compensation in medical malpractice suits: $500,000. If the injury is considered "catastrophic," the cap is placed at $1 million. A catastrophic injury is any injury –such as a traumatic head injury or severe burn injury – that significantly alters the victim's quality of life. For instance, if a patient is left paralyzed after surgery because a doctor was careless, the patient may filed for a catastrophic injury malpractice suit because their life has been permanently altered by the injury.

In this case, however, the victim could file for no more than $1 million in emotional damages. The cap for emergency services is currently held at $150,000. If negligence was committed by someone other than a health care professional, the caps are limited to $750,000 and $1.5 million. This April, the Florida Supreme Court was subjected to verbal arguments during a recent case – Evette McCall v. United States of American SC11-1145 – in which McCall argued that the cap was unconstitutional.

Six years ago, Michelle McCall died of blood loss after delivering a child while being treated at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center. After her death, Michelle's family sued the medical center and was awarded $2 million for pain and suffering. After the money was awarded, the judge cut the amount in half, citing Florida state law. The U.S. court argues that the award was legal, but Michelle's family sees it differently. According to Evette McCall, the award is unconstitutional because not principled basis exists for creating the $1 million cap.

McCall's attorney argues that the $1 million reduction violated her rights, according to the U.S. constitution. In defense of the Florida law, another lawyer argues that Florida, as well as other states, have numerous caps. "Access to courts has not been denied," says an attorney in favor the Florida cap, "Simply a limit has been placed on damages." This may be true, but the real issue is whether or not the caps are legitimate in the first place.

Interestingly, almost all (about 95%) medical malpractice cases are settled before they even reach the courthouse and the median settlement for malpractice cases is $213,000. On the other hand, the state believes that Evette McCall and her family misunderstand the intention of the caps. The caps were designed to help solve crisis situations. Not only this, but lawmakers want to provide a stable market as they move forward – a status quo.

"The suggestion that the crises has abated because the reforms work if taken to its conclusion would require this court to overturn this law," said the Florida lawyer, "That would send Florida into another crisis and require the legislature to act and it would perpetuate this boom and bust cycle that has afflicted medical negligence insurance." At this point, the medical malpractice caps are still heavily debated and the court has no limit as to how long it will take to make a decision. On the one hand, a severe injury cannot be revoked by an insurance or malpractice settlement; on the other, it is debatable whether or not the caps should be allowed in the first place.