On June 8, 2017, the state of Florida ruled that capping noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases is unconstitutional. This distant and subtle change will dramatically affect the lives and businesses of many Floridians, and each state has made its own decisions about whether to cap damages in malpractice lawsuits or not.
So what does all this mean? Why is this a big deal for Florida? What are “noneconomic damages” and why are they important? And how might Indiana’s laws affect your Evansville medical malpractice case?
What Is a Medical Malpractice Cap?
Currently, more than half the states in the U.S. employ some kind of cap on medical malpractice damages, whether economic or noneconomic in nature.
These caps limit the amount of money plaintiffs can receive in medical malpractice lawsuits. No matter what amount the jury finds appropriate in damages, these laws restrict how much the defendant has to pay for his or her negligence.
Economic damages are not usually subject to these caps because they are calculated from publically available numbers in each lawsuit. They are more objective than noneconomic damages.
On the other hand, noneconomic damages are awarded based on the jury’s discretion. They include things like compensation for permanent disability, emotional trauma, and other subjective (though no less real) effects of medical malpractice. Though noneconomic damages are highly significant components of such lawsuits, they are nevertheless difficult to calculate objectively.
Indiana’s Malpractice Cap
Indiana became the first U.S. state to pass laws that enforced a medical malpractice cap in 1975. Since then, Indiana expanded its sanction across both economic and noneconomic damages, setting it apart from most other states.
This means that no matter how severe your disability or heavy your financial burden due to medical malpractice, you cannot recover more damages than the state legislature mandates, even if the jury awards your particular case more than this amount.
In 2016, Indiana raised this cap from $1.25 to $1.65 million. It will increase again in 2019 to $1.8 million.
Though this amount may seem extraordinarily high for a single person to receive in damages, remember that this includes both economic and noneconomic costs. The awarded amount must cover current and ongoing medical expenses as well as social and economic displacement due to pain and suffering, and perhaps account for a shortened career.
The sum of these costs often proves to be much higher than the state’s limit on malpractice awards.
How Does Florida’s Decision Affect Indiana?
Lawmakers and lawyers support medical malpractice caps because they believe they help doctors focus on treating patients rather than constantly fearing a multimillion-dollar malpractice lawsuit. They claim exorbitant noneconomic awards hurt insurance companies, who then raise their rates or reduce coverage to pay such costs.
However, the Florida Supreme Court thought differently. They dismissed the notion of a “medical malpractice insurance crisis” that causes doctors to perform below their capability and instead sided with those plaintiffs who have suffered drastic injuries that go beyond the cost of the state’s malpractice cap.
Though it’s unlikely Indiana’s malpractice caps — on both economic and noneconomic damages — will follow suit in the near future, the Florida court ruling adds evidence and weight to the argument against caps of any kind in medical malpractice cases.
Help from an Evansville Medical Malpractice Attorney
Medical malpractice claims are often more serious and complicated than personal injury claims, and you have more than just a cap on damages to worry about. The experienced and compassionate Evansville attorneys at Hensley Legal Group are here to help you if you’ve suffered from medical malpractice. Contact us or give us a call today for a free consultation of your case.