August 7, 2017
On June 8, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Fourth District Court of Appeal that capping noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases is unconstitutional.
That’s a lot to unpack. First, what are medical malpractice caps? What are noneconomic damages? And how does Florida law differ from what’s currently on the books in Indiana?
What Are Medical Malpractice Caps?
More than half of the states in the U.S. currently have some form of a medical malpractice cap in place.
Medical malpractice caps limit the amount of compensation a victim of medical malpractice can recover. This means that even if the jury rules in their favor and the victim “wins” their case, their award is limited by a law passed by the state government, not by the decision of the jury.
Most states place limits on noneconomic damages only.
Economic damages are easy to calculate, such as medical bills or lost wages. They rely on set numbers that everyone can agree on.
Noneconomic damages, however, are subject to each individual jury. These include compensation for things like permanent disability, emotional trauma, disfigurement, and pain and suffering—all devastating results of medical malpractice, but not ones that come with easily calculated price tags.
Medical Malpractice Caps in Indiana
In 1975, Indiana became the first state to pass a medical malpractice cap. Today, Indiana is different from most states because its medical malpractice cap includes noneconomic and economic damages together.
That means that, in Indiana, no matter how much you owe in medical bills or to what extent you now suffer from a disability due to medical malpractice, you are limited in the amount of compensation you can recover, regardless of whether or not a jury believes you deserve more.
Last year, Indiana lawmakers approved an increase in the state’s medical malpractice cap from $1.25 million to $1.65 million, which went into effect this year. In 2019, the cap is set to increase again, this time to $1.8 million.
However, for many victims of medical malpractices, these increases are not enough.
What the Florida Ruling Means for Indiana
“[T]he caps on noneconomic damages…arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries.”
That’s what the Florida Supreme Court wrote in its ruling when it deemed Florida’s medical malpractice caps unconstitutional.
But what does this mean for Indiana?
Lawmakers who support medical malpractice caps often believe that high awards for noneconomic damages are part of an emotional response on behalf of the jury and are too excessive. They believe the court system is being abused to give plaintiffs excessive awards beyond what they need, and that this hurts insurance companies and doctors alike.
The theory is that doctors who aren’t afraid of getting hit with millions upon millions of dollars in a medical malpractice lawsuit will be able to focus on medicine instead and will be better doctors.
But the Florida Supreme Court addressed this, saying, “We further conclude that because there is no evidence of a continuing medical malpractice insurance crisis justifying the arbitrary and invidious discrimination between medical malpractice victims, there is no rational relationship between the personal injury noneconomic damage caps . . . and alleviating this purported crisis.”
Although Florida law doesn’t have any direct effect on Indiana law, the Florida Supreme Court’s decision might make it easier for attorneys to argue that Indiana’s medical malpractice cap—which, since it caps both economic and noneconomic damages, is actually worse than Florida’s—is also unconstitutional, no matter how many times it increases over the next couple of years.
Help from an Indiana Medical Malpractice Attorney
Medical malpractice cases are different from other personal injury cases, and not just because of medical malpractice caps. If you’ve suffered injury due to medical malpractice, our attorneys can help. Call Hensley Legal Group today or contact us online for a free consultation.