Florida Supreme Court to Rule on Non-Economic Damage Cap, Threaten Medical Malpractice Premiums

The Supreme Court of Florida recently heard oral arguments in the case Evette McCall v. United States of America. At the heart of the case is whether Florida’s cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases is constitutional or not. Florida passed a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages in 2003. The amount would increase to $1 million in the event of a catastrophic injury or death.

The case originates from the 2006 death of Evette McCall, who died after childbirth due to blood loss. A jury awarded her estate $2 million in non-economic pain-and-suffering damages. The court then reduced the award to $1 million, in keeping with the 2003 Florida law.

The McCall estate is suing on the grounds that lowering the damages violated the estate’s constitutional right to a trial by jury and a jury verdict. Lawyers for the state argue that the cap on non-economic damages does not prohibit access to the courts, but rather simply regulates the size of verdicts.

Non-economic damage caps are effective in lowering medical malpractice insurance premiums because they add predictability to the marketplace. If an insurance company knows that there will not be any “super verdicts,” or verdicts that are in the multi-millions of dollars, they do not have to charge excesses malpractice premiums in order to be prepared for a super verdict.

Overturning the Florida cap on non-economic damages would be especially threatening to the affordability of medical malpractice insurance because it has the dubious distinction of having the nation’s most-expensive medical malpractice insurance premiums. In Miami-Dade, Fla., obstetricians pay annual base-rate premiums in excess of $200,000. Florida also boats the largest number of physicians practicing “bare,” or without any medical malpractice insurance coverage at all.

Florida has no restriction on the amount of time its Supreme Court can deliberate on a case, and there is no time frame as to when it might produce a verdict. So we are no in a waiting game.