Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court made waves in the longstanding tort reform debate when it ruled the state’s non-economic damages cap was unconstitutional and overturned the law.
This ruling is a major victory for patients who have been harmed by personal injury actions, which include medical malpractice and negligence. As advocates, we’ve seen firsthand the power of the justice system to hold corporations and individuals accountable for unsafe practices and products by imposing financial penalties, or damages, large enough to make them take notice and change their ways. Placing caps on noneconomic damages takes that power away – especially for the people harmed the most.
“We conclude that the caps on noneconomic damages … arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries…and violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution,” said the 4-3 majority opinion shared by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince.
Let’s use the case that the Florida Supreme Court heard to illustrate this point. After Fort Lauderdale resident Susan Kalitan underwent surgery for carpal-tunnel syndrome, she left the hospital with a perforated esophagus, a potentially life-threatening condition caused by anesthesia mistakenly administered through tubes in her mouth. A jury awarded her $4 million in damages, but she didn’t receive the compensation because the state law unconstitutionally capped her damages. Now, she will be entitled to full reparations for the harm she endured due to the hospital’s negligence.
THE TRUTH ABOUT TORT REFORM
Advocates for tort reform argue that the cost of compensating victims for medical malpractice lawsuits increases insurance costs industrywide, as the majority of claim damages are paid by insurance companies.
We understand however that tort reform supporters and lobbyists are most interested in protecting the profits of medical providers and insurance companies from the people who have been wronged, even if unintentionally.
Contrary to some beliefs, our tort system does not threaten the economy or backlog our courts with unnecessary lawsuits. A 2010 study from Harvard School of Public Affairs found that the overall cost of medical malpractice comprises less than 3 percent of the nation’s total health care expenditure. The National Bureau of Economic Research, along with Americans for Insurance Reform, have also found little correlation between medical malpractice claims and insurance premiums. Instead, premium rates are driven almost entirely by market trends.
In the end, imposing caps on noneconomic damages removes the ability for patients to earn justice and hold parties accountable when they have been harmed by personal injury actions. Patients deserve to be compensated fairly for the life-altering injuries and traumas they have suffered, and organizations and individuals need to be held accountable for their actions to help create positive change and protect other people from facing similar circumstances.
WE ARE HERE TO HELP
We are here to help if you or a family member have been affected by personal injury actions, medical malpractice, negligence, or if you have another legal issue you would like to discuss.
You can reach us by phone: (206) 467-6090; or through our contact page