Supreme Court Ready To Hear Medical Malpractice, Other Major Cases

May 26, 2016

For legal junkies, the Florida Supreme Court will be the best show in town during a three-day period in June.

Justices are poised to hear arguments on a series of high-profile issues, including gambling, the death penalty, guns and medical malpractice, according to a schedule released Wednesday.

Here are five cases to watch:

--- MEDICAL MALPRACTICE: Lawmakers in 2003 spent months battling about changes to the state's medical-malpractice laws, with the biggest fight about limiting "non-economic" damages in malpractice cases.

The Supreme Court in 2014 rejected such limits in medical malpractice cases involving wrongful death and is now poised to hear arguments about the constitutionality of the limits in personal-injury malpractice cases. The arguments will come in the Broward County case of Susan Kalitan, who went into surgery for carpal-tunnel syndrome and ended up suffering a perforated esophagus because of tubes inserted into her mouth and esophagus as part of the anesthesia process.

The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled last year that the damage limits were unconstitutional in such personal-injury lawsuits. The case (North Broward Hospital District, etc., et al v. Susan Kalitan) is scheduled for arguments June 9.

--- DEATH PENALTY: Florida's death-penalty system has been in legal flux since January when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state's sentencing process was unconstitutional. Lawmakers and Scott rushed during this year's legislative session to pass a law to address the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but litigation continues about the ramifications of the January ruling and the new law.

The Florida Supreme Court in June is expected to hear arguments about one of the biggest issues in the debate: whether unanimous jury recommendations are needed before judges can impose the death penalty. The newly passed law requires 10 of 12 jurors to recommend death sentences, which is more stringent than an old law that allowed a recommendation by a majority of jurors. But critics say the new law doesn't comply with the U.S. Supreme Court's reasoning.

The debate likely will play out in the case of Larry Darnell Perry, who was convicted in the 2013 murder of his infant son. The case (Larry Darnell Perry v. State of Florida) is scheduled for arguments June 7.

--- CLAIM BILLS: After a legal and political battle, the Legislature in 2012 approved what is known as a "claim" bill directing Southwest Florida's Lee Memorial Health System to pay $15 million because of severe injuries suffered at birth by Aaron Edwards.

But tucked into the bill was a restriction that only $100,000 of the amount could go to attorneys who had represented the Edwards family in a lengthy court fight about the injuries. The Supreme Court in June will weigh a constitutional challenge to the limit on the legal fees.

The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled against the West Palm Beach-based law firm Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A. but asked the Supreme Court to resolve the constitutional issue. The case (Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, etc., et al v. State of Florida) is scheduled for arguments June 9.

--- GUNS: With his holstered gun in plain view, Dale Norman was arrested in 2012 in Fort Pierce and charged with violating a state law that bars people from openly carrying firearms in public.

Now, Florida's high court will hear Norman's arguments that the open-carry ban violates constitutional rights to bear arms. Norman went to the Supreme Court after a jury found him guilty of a misdemeanor charge and the 4th District Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of the law.

Amid the case, the Legislature considered a bill that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry firearms. But the measure did not become law. The case (Dale Lee Norman v. State of Florida) is scheduled for arguments June 8.

--- GAMBLING: Justices will take up a closely watched case about whether a pari-mutuel facility in rural Gadsden County should be able to offer slot machines --- a case that could have implications for five other counties across the state.

The pari-mutuel Gretna Racing argues it should be allowed to offer the lucrative machines, at least in part because Gadsden County voters approved slots in a referendum. But a divided 1st District Court of Appeal last year sided with Gov. Rick Scott's administration, which contends that the small North Florida horse track cannot have slot machines without the express permission of the Legislature.

The outcome of the case could affect five other counties --- Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington --- where voters have approved slots in similar referendums. The case (Gretna Racing, LLC v. Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, etc.) is scheduled for arguments June 7.