Last week the Florida Supreme Court struck down damage caps in wrongful death medical malpractice cases. The case, Estate of Michelle McCall v. United States of America, at issue last week involved a mother who died during childbirth when the primary doctors did not think it was necessary to call in an obstetrician to assist with a complication delivery. Further, the young mother was allowed to bleed to death while the doctor order that her blood be taken for testing. In any event, the court was asked to determine whether damage caps in these kind of cases were constitutional. The Florida Supreme Court determined that such caps were not constitutional since they were not passed in an effort to further any legitimate government interest and their application was purely arbtirary.
The most relevant part of this Supreme Court opinion, in my view, was its discussion about the legitimate government interest or lack thereof. See, these caps were passed by the Florida legislature in response to what it deemed was a “medical malpractice crisis.” I am sure you all remember several years ago (and every few years on election cycle) when conservative politicians say things like “Florida Doctors are being run off by jackpot verdicts”, “Hospital Emergency rooms are closing due to the trial lawyers” or that “insurance premiums are so high in Florida because of the runaway verdicts.” These are the same items that the Florida legislature took testimony on and based the passing of these caps. However, the Supreme Court was tasked with examining the law and determining the adequacy of its basis from a constitutional perspective.
So the McCall Court looked to see if this claim of “crisis” was a legitimate state interest or not. Not surprising to me, it turned out to be nothing but “the underwriting cycle of the insurance industry”. Here are a few of the facts that were cited by the Court illustrating the fictatious nature of this “crisis”: Government reports have concluded that the number of Florida doctors has increased over the past decade not decreased, this is true for city doctors and those found in more rural areas; in a 14 year period only 7.5% of jury awards against doctors or hospitals was over $1 million dollars; there was no evidence from any source that established any person not being able to recieve medical care or being re-directed to another practicioner as the result of this medical malpractice crisis; despite the caps on medical malpractice damages insurance premiums for doctors have not been lowed but increased; insurance company profits have increased since the passing of these caps without these companies passing these savings on to their insureds. All of these items were laid out by the Court in its opinion with multiple references for each proposition. Most of the sources relied upon by the Court were governmental publications without ties to any special interest.
So, the Court held that given the complete lack of a rational basis the State of Florida cannot possibly have a legitimate state interest in making more money for the insurance companies. So, the next time you hear about an insurance crisis or any crisis tied to the insurance industry. Ask yourself if the solution being offered is one that will increase profits for anyone and your expense. In this case the insurance industry and its powerful lobby got away with some pretty healthy profit margins at many victim’s expense. Not anymore in this State.
For more information on this case or any personal injury matter or wrongful death case, please feel free to contact the firm at 855-HIREJOE or on the web at zarzaurlaw.com.