Another Florida Court of Appeal Finds Malpractice Damages Cap Unconstitutional
By Guy K. Noa, Esq.
The Second District Court of Appeal recently ruled that Florida’s limitation on “non-economic” damages in personal injury and wrongful death cases stemming from medical malpractice is unconstitutional, joining the Fourth District Court of Appeal which held the cap unconstitutional in 2015. The case, Port Charlotte HMA, LLC v. Suarez, arose from the alleged negligence of several health care providers at Peace River Regional Medical Center (“Peace River”) in connection with obstetrical care and treatment of Iala Suarez during her pregnancy with her daughter.
In 2010, Suarez presented to Peace River several times with worsening symptoms of early onset preeclampsia, a common condition of pregnancy that is potentially life-threatening. Despite Suarez’s worsening symptoms and the increased risk of premature delivery, Suarez’s doctors did not promptly begin administering antenatal corticosteroids to enhance the development of the baby’s brain and lungs and failed to transfer Suarez to a facility properly equipped to handle a premature birth of less than 33 weeks gestational age. Suarez’ baby was born at 26 weeks gestational age with severe neurological impairments that will make her dependent on 24-hour care for the rest of her life.
Suarez sued Peace River and its employees for medical malpractice, and after a lengthy trial, a jury awarded Suarez approximately $28 million in damages, including $5.5 million in non-economic damages. Peace River filed a motion to reduce the jury verdict, claiming that Peace River’s liability for noneconomic damages should be limited to $1.5 million pursuant to the limitation on damages set forth in Florida Statute 766.118(3). Suarez responded that the statutory cap on noneconomic damages is unconstitutional. The trial court agreed with Suarez and declined to apply the statutory cap in 766.118(3).
In upholding the trial court’s decision, the Second District Court of Appeal relied on a 2015 decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeal finding Florida’s cap on non-economic damages violated the right to equal protection guaranteed by the Florida Constitution. The court in Suarez agreed with the Fourth District Court of Appeal and similarly held that the cap on non-economic damages was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Florida is currently considering whether the limitation on damages set forth in Florida Statute 766.118 is unconstitutional and a decision is expected soon.