Courting Justice: Florida Strikes Down Caps on Non-Economic Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases

March 14, 2014

If you have been a loyal reader of my blog since it began over a year ago (and so far, I am only aware of my mother reading my blog), you may recall that my early blogs deconstructed the notion that significant tort reform and caps on non-economic damages was needed to reign in our litigious society. I explained that the alleged medical malpractice crisis was a hoax perpetrated by the Chamber of Commerce and the insurance industry to hoodwink the public into believing caps on non-economic damages would actually benefit the public. The tort reformers made it sound as if caps were akin to snake oil and could cure everything that ails us. Caps would keep doctors from leaving the state due to high insurance premiums. Caps would stop those crazy juries from awarding run away verdicts to greedy plaintiffs. And my favorite tort reform theme: caps would end human suffering as we know it. I boldly blogged that tort reform was the biggest snake oil sales pitch on the American public since the Sham-Wow guy.

That’s why I’m glad to see that the Supreme Court of Florida was listening to me. On Thursday, March 13, 2014, Florida’s highest court struck down a law that capped non-economic damages in wrongful death medical malpractice cases at one million dollars. The case involved the death of a young woman who died because her primary care physician decided to pretend he was an OBGYN and delivered her baby despite complications which he was ill-equipped to handle. He botched the delivery so bad that she died leaving behind a son and two parents. The court awarded these plaintiffs two million dollars in non economic damages but reduced the award to one million dollars due to the cap.

What was most interesting to me in the court’s 99 page opinion is how they eviscerated every argument the tort reformers have advanced in favor of caps. Paraphrasing (and completely putting my own twist on what happened), the Court pointed out that back in 2003, Republican governor Jeb Bush wanted to do a “solid” for his friends at the Chamber of Commerce and in the insurance industry. So he put together a task force to determine if there was a medical malpractice crisis ruining the state. The task force came back with the exact flavor of Kool-Aid Jeb wanted to drink. The task force said non-economic damage awards in medical malpractice actions was the reason doctor’s insurance premiums were high, the reason doctor’s were leaving the state, the reason for runaway verdicts, and the reason doc’s were not delivering babies. The Supreme Court took on every one of these lies and demolished them with facts and statistics.

Tort reformers hate facts and hate statistics. How did they respond to this ruling? As could be expected, they used the same tired rhetoric and buzz words they’ve been using for years to mislead you. “This is another example of the Supreme Court legislating from the bench and it is offensive that activist judges have taken the place of elected officials,” said Jeff Scott, general counsel for the Florida Medical Association.

Hey Jeff, you couldn’t find anything more intelligent to say than to blame it on activist judges. In fact Jeff, what is an activist judge? Sounds scary. Oh, I forgot fear mongering is your best weapon to dupe the public about the legal system. My bad.