Medical malpractice damage caps are statutory limitations on the amount of money which a patient is able to collect from a medical malpractice lawsuit. Individuals who are against these caps argue that they aim to protect the profits of medical companies.
Individuals who are for these caps argue that they keep physicians healing without having to worry about potential large liabilities. There are many states that have laws that limit the damages available to medical malpractice plaintiffs.
The majority of states only limit non-economic damages. Non-economic damages are unquantifiable, subjective losses, for example:
- Pain and suffering;
- Mental anguish;
- Loss of companionship; and
Typically, states do not limit economic damages. These are quantifiable, objective losses which include:
- Medical bills;
- Lost wages; and
- Lost future earnings.
If a plaintiff is injured due to medical malpractice, they may be entitled to seek several categories of damages for their injuries. The individual may recover economic damages, for example, medical expenses and lost income as well as non-economic damages, for pain and suffering.
Economic damages can be easily calculated based on documentation including:
- Invoices; and
- Tax returns.
Non-economic damages, on the other hand, may be difficult to qualify. Jurors are not provided with much guidance regarding how to determine pain and suffering.
Because of this, jury verdicts may be inconsistent and seemingly arbitrary. The disparity and unpredictability in the amounts that are awarded to plaintiffs may impact the public’s perception of the jury system.
In addition, healthcare providers may face uncertainty regarding their potential exposure if they are facing a lawsuit. The increasing insurance rates have resulted in insurance industry crises in numerous states.
The difficulty of objectivity in determining pain and suffering amounts has resulted in some states capping the amount of non-economic damages that a medical malpractice plaintiff is permitted to recover. The cap on these damages will vary by state.
In some states with caps, exceptions are made for cases that involve:
- Wrongful death;
- Permanent disability; or
- Multiple defendants.
In many states, courts have struck down damage caps as unconstitutional because they deny equal protection of the law for injured individuals because they infringe on their right to a jury trial.
In some cases, a patient may be severely injured by a doctor’s malpractice and may even be crippled for life. Opponents of malpractice caps argue that setting limits on damage awards places the burden of the malpractice on the plaintiff, or patient, while an incompetent doctor is not punished to the full extent of the law.
There are, however, some recent court decisions which have overruled these caps, holding them to be unconstitutional. The reasoning behind these decisions is that the majority of state constitutions guarantee a plaintiff the right to a trial by jury.
In theory, the government is supposed to make the laws and the jury is tasked with analyzing the facts to determine if the law was broken. Based upon how much the jury believed the law was broken, they are given the freedom to award an amount of money they think is fair.
Medical malpractice caps may also be challenged as violations of the separation of powers. Separation of powers is the division between the three branches of government. If a legislature limits the damages awards, lawmakers may be exercising a power that is normally exercised by judges.
A judge may reduce the amount of a jury verdict because they possess superior legal knowledge. In some states, such as Florida, the judge has discretion to ignore the cap if injustice would otherwise occur.
Medical malpractice damages caps are different from wrongful death damages caps. These damages are awarded for loss of companionship and consortium in wrongful death cases.
Ultimately, the judge presiding over the case determines the actual dollar amount of the remedy awarded. Some states fear that a jury may be tempted to award excessive damages if the store of lost companionship and consortium is especially heart-wrenching.
Does Florida Cap Medical Malpractice Damages?
The State of Florida limits medical malpractice damages available to plaintiffs. Similar to other states, Florida medical malpractice damages caps only apply to non-economic damages.
Economic damages are not limited in Florida. The laws governing medical malpractice caps in Florida are more complex than those in other states.
Florida imposes different limitations for damages awarded against a non-practitioner defendant than for damages awarded against a practitioner defendant, which may include:
- Physician assistants;
- Medical assistants;
- Dental hygienists;
- Physical therapists; and
- Registered nurses.
By definition, a practitioner also includes:
- Partnerships; or
- Other business entities under which practitioners practice.
The definition of practitioner also includes an employee of a practitioner or business entity who is acting within the scope of their employment. In addition, Florida imposes lower limitations for damages that result from emergency services and care.
Florida also imposes lower limitations on damages that result from care that is provided by practitioners to Medicaid recipients.
Damage Caps against Practitioners in Florida
The damage caps against practitioners in Florida are as follows:
- Limitations generally: In general, non-economic damages cannot exceed $500,000 per plaintiff. In addition, no practitioner defendant shall be held liable for more than $500,000 in non-economic damages;
- The total amount of non-economic damages that is recoverable from all plaintiffs against all practitioners cannot exceed $1,000,000;
- Death or permanent vegetative state: The Florida Supreme Court ruled, in March 2014, that the $1 million medical malpractice cap on wrongful death was not constitutional in a case where the plaintiff was in a permanent vegetative state or died;
- Severe non-economic harm and catastrophic injury: Another exception to the general rule of damage caps, if the non-economic harm to the plaintiff was particularly severe and the negligence caused a catastrophic injury;
- The total non-economic damages recoverable from all practitioners shall not exceed $1,000,000;
- Limitations for negligence arising out of emergency services and care: Non-economic damages shall not exceed $150,000 per plaintiff. Additionally, the total non-economic damages recoverable by all plaintiffs from all practitioners shall not exceed $300,000; and
- Limitations for negligence arising out of services and care to a medicaid recipient: Non-economic damages can not exceed $300,000 per plaintiff. Additionally, each practitioner providing care to a Medicaid recipient will not be liable for more than $200,000;
These limitations do not apply if the plaintiff can prove that the practitioner acted in a wrongful manner.
Damage Caps Against Non-Practitioners in Florida
The damage caps against non-practitioners are as follows:
- Limitations generally: Non-economic damages shall not exceed $750,000 per plaintiff against a non-practitioner. Additionally, the total non-economic damages recoverable by all plaintiffs from all non-practitioners shall not exceed $1,500,000;
- Death or permanent vegetative state: This is an exception to the general rule for cases of death or a permanent vegetative state. If the negligence results in a permanent vegetative state or death, total non-economic damages recoverable from all non-practitioners shall not exceed $1,500,000;
- Severe non-economic harm and catastrophic injury: There is another exception to the general rule: if the non-economic harm to the plaintiff is particularly severe and the negligence caused a catastrophic injury, the total non-economic damages recoverable from all practitioners shall not exceed $1,500,000; and
- Limitations for negligence arising out of providing emergency services and care: Non-economic damages shall not exceed $750,000 per plaintiff. Additionally, the total economic damages recoverable by all plaintiffs from all non-practitioner defendants shall not exceed $1,500,000.
Do I Need a Florida Lawyer for a Medical Malpractice Claim?
If you or a loved one have been injured by a negligent doctor, it is important to consult with a personal injury lawyer in Florida to learn more about what remedies may be available for you as well as your rights.
Your lawyer can assist you with filing your medical malpractice claim, determine how much you may receive in damages, and represent you throughout the complex legal process.