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Medical Malpractice Arbitration Cap Upheld

Stethoscope and gavel against a white backdrop.
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A South Florida appeals court Wednesday upheld the constitutionality of a cap on damages in medical-malpractice cases tied to an arbitration system. 

A three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal ordered that a jury award be reduced from $450,000 to $350,000 in a malpractice lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County by Deborah DeFranko against physician Taylor Poole and the practice Poole & Villani, M.D., P.A.

A circuit judge ruled that two parts of state law dealing with damage caps were an unconstitutional violation of equal-protection rights. Those parts of state law involve situations in which defendants offer to arbitrate medical-malpractice cases, but plaintiffs reject arbitration and send the cases to trial.

In such cases, non-economic damages --- often referred to as pain-and-suffering damages --- are capped at $350,000.

The Florida Supreme Court in recent years has rejected caps on non-economic damages in medical-malpractice cases that fell under other state laws. But the appeals court Wednesday overturned the circuit judge’s ruling on the constitutionality of the cap in the DeFranko case, finding that the “statutes presently under review … are within a voluntary arbitration remedy that was not considered by the Florida Supreme Court or subject to the holdings” by the Supreme Court.

The six-page decision, written by appeals-court Judge Vance Salter and joined by Chief Judge Kevin Emas and Judge Monica Gordo, also upheld a separate judgment awarding $50,000 to DeFranko’s husband, Myron Siegel. The ruling did not detail the specific allegations of malpractice in the case.