Florida’s Supreme Court tosses out financial limits on some malpractice suits


Malpractice payouts by state. (Jeremy Gower/Diederich Healthcare)

Florida’s Supreme Court on Thursday joined a slew of other courts in throwing out a limit on how much can be awarded in certain kinds of medical malpractice suits.

In the ruling, the justices accused the legislature of manufacturing an “alleged medical malpractice crisis” and found that limits on payouts in some wrongful death suits violate both the federal and state constitutions, according to the Miami Herald.

While the Florida ruling is limited, the wrongful death suit cap was a centerpiece of the 2003 medical malpractice overhaul in the Sunshine State, according to the Herald. And instituting such limits has long been a part of the push for tort reform, with proponents arguing that runaway payouts increase insurance premiums. Indeed, a decade ago, then-Gov. Jeb Bush made that very argument in pushing the 2003 package. And research from 2007 found that instituting such caps was associated with fewer and lower payouts, too. Still, in 2012, Florida was among the five states that accounted for almost half of all medical malpractice suit payouts, according to a Diederich Healthcare analysis of federal data (see map above).

Opponents of the caps — or at least low caps — argue they can have disproportionate affects by state, gender and race. In California, for example, lawyers and industry groups are collecting signatures to get a measure to increase the cap on the ballot.

Caps in medical malpractice suits have been overturned in at least nine other states, according to year-old data from PIAA, an insurance industry trade association. And 35 states have some form of cap on how much victims can get in malpractice suits over non-economic damages — i.e. for non-financial things like pain and suffering —according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.. (The Florida ruling was limited only to caps related to wrongful death suits. These caps often apply even to living victims.)

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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Niraj Chokshi · March 13