Medical malpractice caps unconstitutional, rules Florida Supreme Court

By Christie Zizo, Digital Media Producer
Last Updated: Thursday, June 22, 2017, 9:48 AM EDT

Florida's Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the state's law capping medical malpractice damages in personal injury cases. 

  • Florida Supreme Court struck down medical malpractice caps law
  • Caps were $500,000 for non-economic damages, $1 million if injuries were catastrophic
  • Justices say law violates Equal Protection Clause, hurts patients with severe injury
  • RELATED: Read the Florida Supreme Court Ruling (.PDF)

The court's 4-3 ruling strikes down former Gov. Jeb Bush's 2003 law that limited non-economic damages in malpractice cases to $500,000, or $1 million if the injuries were catastrophic.

The Florida Supreme Court said the caps violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.

In the case, North Broward Hospital District v. Susan Kalitan, complications from carpal tunnel surgery. During the operation, one of the tubes administered for anesthesia perforated Kalitan's esophagus.

Even though Kalitan complained of pain in her chest and back when she woke up, she was discharged from the hospital with drugs for chest pain. The next day Kalitan was found unresponsive, and had to have lifesaving surgery to repair her esophagus. She was in a drug-induced coma for several weeks, had to have additional surgeries and intensive therapy to begin eating again and regain mobility.

Kalitan continues to suffer pain throughout her upper body, and lost her independence because of the physical limitations.

A jury determined Kalitan suffered catastrophic injury in the form of "severe brain or closed-head injury evidenced by a severe episodic neurological disorder." She was awarded $2 million for past pain and suffering and $2 million for future pain and suffering. But because of the cap the reward was greatly reduced.

The court's ruling uphold's an appeals court ruling that reinstated the total amount.

In the ruling the justices said the law violates the equal protection clause because "the arbitrary reduction of compensation without regard to the severity of the injury does not bear a rational relationship to the Legislature's stated interest in address the medical malpractice crisis."

In the ruling justices also say attorneys did not prove the caps are alleviating the medical malpractice crisis, because while income has increased for insurance companies, reports have not shown that savings from the caps are being passed on to doctors.

The decision comes three years after the court struck down caps in cases where malpractice resulted in death.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.