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Medical malpractice cap discarded by state supreme court

Some New Orleans residents may be paying attention as the debate on capping medical malpractice awards continues in the country. Here in Louisiana, there has long been a cap on the amount of compensation a victim can recover after becoming a victim of medical malpractice. Interestingly, the Florida Supreme Court recently threw out legislation that introduced a medical malpractice cap in that state.

Legislation passed in 2003 put the cap at $1 million for non-economic damages. Proponents of the cap argued that it was essential in controlling spiraling medical malpractice insurance costs. They claimed that it helped keep doctors in the state during what they referred to as the medical malpractice crisis. 

However, the state supreme court found that the limits went against the right to equal protection under the state’s constitution. The court failed to see a rational relationship between the objectives of supporters of the cap and medical malpractice insurance. In their ruling, the judges of the state supreme court questioned the existence of the so-called malpractice crisis in the first place. Citing statistics on insurance rates, one of the judges wrote that even if a crisis existed at one time it had long since ended.

The supreme court case stems from a lawsuit filed by the parents of a 20-year-old woman who died shortly after childbirth. The woman died during treatment by U.S. Air Force doctors. Although the family won a medical malpractice lawsuit and was awarded a substantial sum, the judge had to chop the amount in half because of the cap.

Medical malpractice damages are considered by many as one of the means of holding negligent and incompetent doctors accountable for injuries they cause. It is good to see the court protect the rights of vulnerable patients. It remains to be seen whether any states will follow Florida’s steps in this regard.

Source: Reuters, “Florida Supreme Court voids caps on medical malpractice lawsuits,” Bill Cotterell, March 13, 2014

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