Florida Supreme Court Deems Wrongful Death Statutory Caps Unconstitutional
On March 13th of 2014, the Florida Supreme court struck down the wrongful death statutory cap on medical malpractice damages. Lawmakers ruled that the cap was in violation of the Equal Protection Act in the Florida constitution.
Wrongful Death of Michelle McCall
The decision in Florida was based on a medical malpractice case regarding the 2006 death of Michelle McCall. Ms. McCall, who had developed preeclampsia during her last trimester, was treated by the family practice department of the Air Force clinic. As her preeclampsia continued to worsen, labor was induced. The family practice failed to call an obstetrician-gynecologist to perform a Cesarean section. Instead, family practitioners assisted McCall in a natural delivery.
McCall gave birth to a healthy baby boy, however the family of grew concerned about the amount of blood she had lost during delivery. Family practitioners attempted to deliver the placenta multiple times, including an attempted manual delivery, that resulted in severe vaginal lacerations. The deliver attempts were unsuccessful. Finally, the ob-gyn was located, and successfully delivered the placenta within five minutes. The lacerations took about an hour to repair. During this time the nurse anesthetist failed to report Ms. McCall’s deteriorating vital signs to the ob-gyn. It wasn’t until an hour and a half later that Ms. McCall was found unresponsive.
Michelle McCall had gone into cardiac arrest and shock as a result of the blood loss. She was removed from life support a week later. Her estate soon filed a wrongful death action.
Noneconomic Damages Capped at $1 Million
The District Court determined that the noneconomic damages of Michelle McCall’s death totaled $2 million. Noneconomic damages are the non-financial losses that a victim or their family suffers as the result of their injuries. While economic damages may include lost wages and medical expenses, noneconomic damages would include pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, etc.
In this case, the district court determined the noneconomic damages would amount to $750,000 to each of McCall’s parents, and $500,000 to her surviving son. However, Florida’s wrongful death statutory cap on these noneconomic damages reduced the total amount to $1 million—causing each surviving claimant to receive only half of what the jury ruled they should have received.
The case worked its way through several courts before appearing before the Florida Supreme Court.
A Medical Malpractice Crisis?
It was argued that damages awarded to Ms. McCall’s estate were capped because of a “medical malpractice crisis” that was happening in Florida at the time. Essentially, some were arguing that the rise in medical malpractice lawsuits was driving medical malpractice insurance premiums higher. Thus, doctors would retire early or leave the state to avoid Florida’s high insurance payments.
In 2014, the Florida Supreme Court stated that capping the damage money due to the crisis was “dubious and questionable at the very best.” As Missouri personal injury attorneys, we agree with the Supreme Court decision in Florida. In the Florida Constitution, there is an Equal Protection Act, which prevents the courts from favoring one group of people over another. In this situation, attorneys argued that allowing a damage cap for negligent doctors and medical staff favors the medical community over another negligent person (think a dog owner or driver of a vehicle).
Wrongful Death Caps in Missouri?
Every state has its own set of governing laws, so Missouri will not directly compare to Florida. As it stands, Missouri has a $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages in cases of medical malpractice wrongful death. If someone you love has died due to the negligence of someone else, contact a St. Louis wrongful death attorney at Schultz & Myers Personal Injury Lawyers. You should never pay for a consultation from a personal injury lawyer.