In 2003, faced with what the American Medical Association was calling a “crisis” of doctors fleeing the state due to an overabundance of “frivolous” malpractice suits, the Florida legislature ruled to cap noneconomic damages at $500,000 in most cases and $1 million in death. Since then, these caps have demonstrably failed at changing the doctor situation in Florida. But more importantly, they have limited the ability of victims and their families to access the state courts as a means of redressing injuries.
Now, the Florida Supreme Court will finally hear a case that will challenge the constitutionality of noneconomic damage caps in the state. The case is Estate of McCall v. U.S., which involves the 2006 death of Michelle McCall in the care of Air Force hospital personnel. Upon developing preeclampsia during pregnancy, McCall was induced and gave birth to a healthy little boy, but later died after having internal bleeding when caregivers neglected to monitor her blood pressure.
In 2007, McCall’s estate, her parents, her son, and her son’s father filed suit against the United States for the medical negligence that had caused her death. The federal judge found in favor of the family, and determined an appropriate award of almost $3 million–$2 million of which was in noneconomic damages. $500,000 of this was to go to McCall’s baby son, for the loss of his mother whom he would never know; $750,000 was to go to each of McCall’s parents for the pain and suffering caused by the loss of their daughter. Of course, the state caps forced the judge to drastically reduce the amount he had determined should go to the family; this decision was appealed, and now the case is headed to the Florida Supreme Court.
The outcome of this case will no doubt be vital to the future of Americans’ access to the courts, not only in Florida but everywhere there are damage caps. These caps aren’t in the best interest of 99% of Americans; it would be very satisfying to see them ruled unconstitutional.