Florida Judge Invalidates Another Portion of State’s Damage Cap

In June, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Jose Rodriguez denied a defense motion to reduce a jury verdict for noneconomic damages from $500,000 to $350,000 because the defense offered to arbitrate the claim, further chipping away at Florida’s tort reform laws that cap noneconomic damages in medical professional liability actions.

In 2014, the Florida Supreme Court invalidated the capping noneconomic damages in medical professional liability lawsuits involving wrongful death (see MLM, April 2014). In June of last year, the high court overturned parts of the state’s law capping noneconomic damages for the most eggregiously injured plaintiffs (see MLM, July 2017), declaring that “the caps on personal injury noneconomic damages in medical negligence actions provided in section 766.118 violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.”

The Florida Supreme Court’s previous decisions left in place a portion of the medical malpractice tort reform statute that requires “when a plaintiff succeeds at trial but had previously rejected a defendant’s offer to voluntarily arbitrate the claim, the plaintiff’s noneconomic damages are capped at $350,000.”

In the case of DeFranko v. Poole, Judge Rodriguez refused to reduce the jury verdict for noneconomic damages due to the plaintiff rejecting a defense offer to arbitrate the claim, finding that the arbitration portion of the state’s medical liability laws likewise violates the equal protection clause of the Florida Constitution.

In his decision, Judge Rodriguez wrote that the arbitration clause “epitomize[s] ‘the classic case of heads I win, tails you lose.’ Defendants, after all, are the potentially/actually negligent party and thus inherently incentivized to use this power, especially in cases involving large liability. The more devastatingly injured plaintiff is then left with no recourse.”

The underlying case involved cataract surgery performed on Deborah DeFranko by defendant Taylor Poole, MD. The plaintiff alleged that after the surgery, she began suffering from blurred vision, chronic dry eyes, headaches and pain.

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