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Appeals Court: Malpractice Damage Caps Unconstitutional

p1 lawyer
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

As the Florida Supreme Court considers the issue in another case, an appeals court Wednesday ruled that limits on "non-economic" damages in medical-malpractice lawsuits are unconstitutional.

The ruling by a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in a Charlotte County case cited a 2015 decision by another appeals court in a Broward County case. The Supreme Court in June heard arguments in the Broward County case but has not ruled.

Non-economic damages, which are awarded for issues such as pain and suffering, have long been controversial. The Legislature and then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003 approved caps on non-economic damages, pointing to skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs for doctors. But the Supreme Court in 2014 ruled that the caps were unconstitutional in a wrongful-death case involving a woman who died after giving birth in a Northwest Florida hospital.

The Charlotte and Broward County cases involve personal-injury claims, rather than wrongful-death claims.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled against Peace River Regional Medical Center in a lawsuit filed against the hospital and doctors by Iala Suarez, who alleged that negligent care when she was pregnant led to her daughter being born with severe neurological injuries.

A jury awarded $5.25 million in non-economic damages to Suarez and her daughter, with the hospital responsible for a portion of that amount.

In Wednesday's ruling, written by Judge Robert Morris and joined by judges Patricia Kelly and Nelly Khouzam, the panel said it agreed with the 4th District Court of Appeal in the Broward County case that the limits were unconstitutional.