The recent Florida Supreme Court decision in McCall v. U.S. doesn’t formally set a precedent for courts in other states exploring the shedding of medical malpractice damage caps, but legal analysts say it’s likely the beginning of a new shift.
Manhattan medical malpractice attorneys know that fortunately, New York has always been a plaintiff-friendly state in this regard. It’s one of only 15 states that lack medical malpractice damage caps, which means there is no limit to what a plaintiff can collect for non-economic damages when a defendant is found liable.
In the 1990s and into the early 2000s, there was a huge push for these caps, driven primarily by insurance companies seeking to reduce their liability. In places like California, Colorado and Texas, they were successful, reducing non-economic damages to no more than $250,000. In Florida, the cap was set at $500,000.
Now, that cap no longer stands, at least in cases of wrongful death stemming from medical error, following the McCall decision. That same court is soon set to hear another case that involves a surviving victim of medical malpractice.
New York legislators largely resisted these efforts, and that has meant that victims of bad medicine are able to obtain justice.
For example, a recent medical malpractice lawsuit stemming from a birth injury resulted in a $37 million payout to the mother and child, after a cesarean section was unduly delayed. As a result, the infant was deprived of oxygen at birth, which caused permanent cognitive defects, a hearing impairment and the inability to walk without braces.
While juries in other states do award those kinds of damage amounts, if there is a damage cap, chances are victims will never see most of that money. Caps were instituted amid fear that these kinds of large payouts were decimating the insurance and health industry, driving up costs for everyone and resulting in many doctors being forced out of practice.
However, in reviewing the McCall claim, the Florida Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision found those allegations simply untrue. Not only did the law not serve its original purpose of keeping insurance costs down, it was unconstitutional per the equal protection clause. Essentially, the law did not allow for larger payouts in cases where there were a greater number of dependents.
So for example, if a cap is set at $500,000, that’s the maximum that will be paid out – regardless of whether there is only one surviving dependent or six.
The McCall case involved the death of a young mother shortly after giving birth to her only child. She bled to death after the birth, and her husband, on behalf of himself and their child, sued the government-run hospital on the grounds staff was negligent for failure to properly monitor her condition, proximately causing her death.
A jury agreed. While the non-economic damages (being those outside of medical bills, lost wages, etc.) topped millions of dollars, the award was eventually slashed in accordance with the damages cap.
The state supreme court reversed.
The ruling matters here in New York for the simple fact that insurance lobbyists haven’t given up on passing a similar measure. The “medical malpractice crisis” theory has not lost steam among those lobbyists. Perhaps, given the McCall decision, legislators will think twice about buying that theory… or being bought by the insurance lobby.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Fla. decision could launch new attacks on damages caps around the country, May 19, 2014, By Amanda Robert, Legal Newsline
McCall v. U.S., March 13, 2014, Florida Supreme Court
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