Florida Can Cap Big Malpractice Awards

     (CN) – The 11th Circuit upheld a Florida law that puts a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions.

     The constitutionality of the cap came into question after Michelle McCall died in 2006 during induced labor.
     McCall’s last trimester of pregnancy had been difficult, and her contractions weakened during labor. Her family-practice doctors recommended scheduling a cesarean section, but the obstetrician arrived late and decided to continue with vaginal delivery since McCall’s contractions had strengthened.
     Though McCall lost excessive amounts of blood during the delivery, the family-practice doctors concealed the loss from the obstetrician. McCall’s blood pressure dropped dramatically, but the attending nurse failed to doctor, who never checked McCall’s vital signs herself.
     As a result of the severe blood loss, McCall eventually went into shock and cardiac arrest, and never regained consciousness. She was removed from life support after four days.
     McCall’s parents and son sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act and won $980,462 in economic damages and $2 million in noneconomic damages.
     Since Florida has a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions, however, McCall’s family was restricted to $1 million. Florida instituted the cap to allow for cheaper malpractice insurance and medical care.
     McCall’s family claimed they were entitled to the $2 million in noneconomic damages because they could recover the money over the $1 million cap since their suit named nonpractitioners like the Air Force Base Hospital.
     The District Court rejected the argument and found that the does not violate the Florida and U.S. Constitutions.
     A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit upheld the determination on Friday.
     “The District Court was correct in finding that plaintiffs did not establish that Ms. McCall’s death resulted from the negligence of a ‘nonpractitioner,'” Judge Beverly Martin wrote for the court.
     The judges also rejected the family’s argument that the Florida Legislature cannot prove that the cap has made malpractice insurance more easily attainable or lowered the cost of medical care.
     “That argument lacks merit,” Martin wrote, finding that the rational basis for enacting the law proves that it does not violate equal protection under the 14th Amendment.
     The judges also found the cap does not violate the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment or the Florida Constitution, as it does not take property without just compensation.
     McCall’s family can certify questions related to the remaining state constitutional claims to the Florida Supreme Court, according to the 19-page ruling.

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