Medical Malpractice Statutory Caps in Jeopardy

Written by on March 2, 2012 in Law & Finance - No comments

By J. Benjamin Dolan

Challenges to statutory limitations on jury verdicts in medical malpractice actions are on the rise. In two recent cases, juries in Florida and Michigan issued verdicts awarding millions of dollars to illustrate different methods of attaching the legislative caps that states have imposed on non-economic damages in malpractice actions.

In Florida, a jury awarded $2 million in damages for pain and suffering, and loss of companionship suffered by the parents of a woman who died during childbirth, allegedly due to medical negligence. Normally, Florida law imposes a $1 million cap on non-economic damages in such cases. Attorneys for the plaintiff claimed that the cap violates the U.S. Constitution on equal protection and protection from government taking grounds. The Florida federal district court denied the plaintiff’s claims on U.S. Constitutional grounds, but referred the case to the Florida Supreme Court to determine whether the cap violates the Florida Constitution.

Michigan limits non-economic damages in medical malpractice actions to $280,000 generally and $500,000 in certain special cases (adjusted annually for inflation), including spinal cord injury cases. A Michigan jury recently awarded the family of a quadriplegic $130 million in damages due to alleged malpractice. The verdict represents the plaintiff’s estimate of the cost of caring for the child until 2077, which is presumably an element of noneconomic damages not capped by the statute. Regardless of whether or not the jury intended some of the $130 million award to compensate the plaintiff for non-economic damages, the verdict is so large that it renders the legislative cap on economic damages meaningless, at least in that particular case.

Health care providers should closely monitor developments in this area to determine if they should adjust their reserves, self-insured retention amounts or professional liability insurance limits in states where liability caps are invalidated.

Reprinted with permission from Dickinson Wright PLLC

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