Florida Appeals Court Rules Caps on Non-Economic Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases Unconstitutional

Stetho bookLast month, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal found the state’s statutory limits placed on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases unconstitutional. In doing so, the Second Court District joined with the Fourth Court District in a major blow to the state’s law regarding statutory caps in medical malpractice personal injury cases.

In Suarez v. Port Charlotte HMA, LLC, 41 Fla. L. Weekly D2393a (Fla. 2d DCA Nov. 4, 2016), a panel of three judges in the Second Court District reviewed the lower court’s decision on non-economic damages in a case involving alleged medical negligence leading to a life-long neurological disability in the delivery of Suarez’s child.

After Lala Suarez began experiencing the symptoms of preeclampsia early in her pregnancy, she sought medical treatment at Peace River Regional Medical Center in Port Charlotte, FL. The hospital turned Suarez away several times over the course of two weeks rather than administer treatment of corticosteroids to assist in the lung and brain development of Suarez’s unborn child. Due to her preeclampsia, Suarez went into labor and delivered a baby girl at 26 weeks, who in turn ended up suffering grave neurological damage. Doctors at Peace River Regional Medical Center further failed to transfer Suarez to a different facility specifically designed to deal with premature births. Due to the extent of the neurological injuries that Suarez’s daughter faced, she will need round-the-clock care for the rest of her life.

The trail court’s jury found in Suarez’s favor, awarding her and her daughter damages totaling $13.55 million. Included in the total damages were $4.0 million in non-economic damages to Suarez’s daughter, far in excess of the $1 million non-economic damages cap in medical malpractice personal injury cases as prescribed by Section 766.118(3) of the Florida Statute. Following judgment, the hospital moved to reduce the amount of non-economic damages awarded to the statutory cap of $1 million. The trial court rejected the hospital’s motion, citing a prior case from Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal (Kalitan v. North Broward Hospital District, 174 So.3d 403 [Fla. 4th DCA 2015]) which had found the statutory caps on non-economic damages unconstitutional. 

The hospital appealed the trial court’s denial of their motion, bringing the case in front of the Second District Court of Appeal. Because the Second District Court of Appeal found that the Fourth District’s ruling in the Kalitan case was the only prior District Court of Appeal decision that addressed the issue of caps on non-economic damages, the Second District found the Kalitan ruling binding and upheld the trial court’s award of $4.0 million in non-economic damages to Suarez’s daughter.

While the Florida Supreme Court has yet to rule on a case involving the constitutionality of statutory caps on non-economic damages, the Second District Court of Appeal’s ruling in Suarez may ultimately change the face of medical malpractice suits in Florida.