Court Tosses out Caps in Wrongful Death Cases; Justices Rule 2003 Law Limiting Damages in Medical Malpractice Suits Unfair for Large Families

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Pantazi

Families of people who died from medical malpractice are entitled to as much money as juries decide, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 on Thursday, overriding a contentious 11-year-old law.

The decision didn't surprise attorneys.

The law limited how much the victims' families could be awarded in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The decision specifically addressed people who died from medical malpractice and did not address personal-injury cases.

The decision overturned a 2003 law promoted by insurers, doctors and former Gov. Jeb Bush who argued large jury awards prompted doctors to flee the state and sent medical malpractice insurance skyrocketing. Victims, the law said, could only collect a certain amount of money in medical malpractice cases.

The law allowed tangible, calculable damages - like income loss - to go uncapped. But intangible damages - like mental anguish, pain, the cost of losing a mother to guide you through life - would be capped based on the case.

For example, if a hospital was at fault in the death of a mother, the most the patient's family could collect was $1 million spread among all her family members.

The Supreme Court justices decided that was biased against victims with large families.

The Supreme Court case decision dealt with the 2006 death of Michelle McCall.

In February 2006, McCall, 20, was pregnant. Her blood pressure spiked, and she suffered complications. She delivered a son, but the Air Force family doctors couldn't remove the placenta. Her blood pressure dropped, and family members told the doctors they were concerned she was losing too much blood. An obstetrician then removed the placenta. The Air Force family practitioners told him McCall hadn't lost much blood, and the anesthesiologist said her vital signs were OK. The obstetrician ordered a blood transfusion if needed. About an hour and a half later, a nurse attempted to draw blood and noticed McCall was in shock. She never woke. She left behind a son and two parents.

The district court ruled her family deserved $2 million, but it couldn't give more than $1 million split three ways because of the state law.

That, the Supreme Court found, was unfair. …