Florida caps in malpractice cases ruled unconstitutional

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Caps on how much money patients injured by a doctor’s mistakes can receive were declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday, a decision that strikes down one of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s major policy victories. The court ruled that the caps placed into law in 2003 were arbitrary and there’s no proof that they reduced malpractice insurance rates that lawmakers were attempting to contain. Even if they have, there’s no present crisis to justify the caps. In a 4-3 decision, justices also said the caps unfairly hurt those most severely injured by doctors’ mistakes. “The caps on noneconomic damages … arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries,” the court said. The law limited non-economic damages, which includes pain and suffering, against doctors in malpractice case to $500,000, or $1 million if the injuries were catastrophic. The issue was so important to Bush that he called lawmakers back to the Capitol for three special legislative sessions to get a bill passed. The case the court ruled on involves a woman who was severely injured while doctors performed wrist surgery to alieve her carpal tunnel syndrome at a Broward County hospital. An anesthesia tube punctured Susan Kalitan’s esophagus during the surgery. She awoke and complained of severe back and chest pain. Doctors were unaware of the injury and gave her pain medication and sent her home, according to court documents. A neighbor checking on Kalitan the next day found her unconscious. She was rushed to the hospital where doctors performed life-saving surgery. She remained in a drug-induced coma for several weeks and later had additional surgeries and intensive therapy to be able to eat again, according to court documents. She continues to endure pain and mental trauma. A jury awarded her $2 million for past pain and suffering and $2 million for future pain and suffering. A lower court judge determined that Kalitan’s injuries were catastrophic, but the non-economic award was reduced by about $3.3 million because of the medical malpractice caps and separate law that limited the government-run hospital’s liability to $100,000. “She suffered mentally and will for the rest of her life,” said Nichole Segal, a lawyer representing Kalitan. “She has issues raising her arms and going through the motions of daily life.” Segal said the ruling not only helps a deserving client, but will change future malpractice cases from the moment they’re filed. She said many plaintiffs were settling for less than they deserved because of the caps and some law firms weren’t taking up cases because they can be very expensive to litigate and the limits made them less profitable. “This will affect every single person who brings a medical negligence case,” she said. The Florida Medical Association, which supports caps, didn’t immediately comment on the ruling. By BRENDAN FARRINGTON, Associated Press TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Caps on how much money patients injured by a doctor’s mistakes can receive were declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday, a decision that strikes down one of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s major policy victories. The court ruled that the caps placed into law in 2003 were arbitrary and there’s no proof that they reduced malpractice insurance rates that lawmakers were attempting to contain. Even if they have, there’s no present crisis to justify the caps. In a 4-3 decision, justices also said the caps unfairly hurt those most severely injured by doctors’ mistakes. “The caps on noneconomic damages … arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries,” the court said. The law limited non-economic damages, which includes pain and suffering, against doctors in malpractice case to $500,000, or $1 million if the injuries were catastrophic. The issue was so important to Bush that he called lawmakers back to the Capitol for three special legislative sessions to get a bill passed. The case the court ruled on involves a woman who was severely injured while doctors performed wrist surgery to alieve her carpal tunnel syndrome at a Broward County hospital. An anesthesia tube punctured Susan Kalitan’s esophagus during the surgery. She awoke and complained of severe back and chest pain. Doctors were unaware of the injury and gave her pain medication and sent her home, according to court documents. A neighbor checking on Kalitan the next day found her unconscious. She was rushed to the hospital where doctors performed life-saving surgery. She remained in a drug-induced coma for several weeks and later had additional surgeries and intensive therapy to be able to eat again, according to court documents. She continues to endure pain and mental trauma. A jury awarded her $2 million for past pain and suffering and $2 million for future pain and suffering. A lower court judge determined that Kalitan’s injuries were catastrophic, but the non-economic award was reduced by about $3.3 million because of the medical malpractice caps and separate law that limited the government-run hospital’s liability to $100,000. “She suffered mentally and will for the rest of her life,” said Nichole Segal, a lawyer representing Kalitan. “She has issues raising her arms and going through the motions of daily life.” Segal said the ruling not only helps a deserving client, but will change future malpractice cases from the moment they’re filed. She said many plaintiffs were settling for less than they deserved because of the caps and some law firms weren’t taking up cases because they can be very expensive to litigate and the limits made them less profitable. “This will affect every single person who brings a medical negligence case,” she said. The Florida Medical Association, which supports caps, didn’t immediately comment on the ruling.


About John Fagan

John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981. John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder. In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home. John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation. Professional Activities John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates. Service to the Community John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
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