Florida Appellate Court Holds Damage Caps Unconstitutional in Medical Malpractice Suit

The Florida Court of Appeals for the Fourth District held that a Palm Beach County trial court erred in applying statutory caps to the noneconomic damages award in a medical malpractice case.Appellant Dr. Jeanne Go and a colleague were sued for medical malpractice resulting from their treatment of Dens Pierre, which caused permanent brain injury to the child. A jury found Dr. Go 75% liable and awarded Pierre and his mother roughly $28.5 million in damages. However, the reward was reduced pursuant to section 766.118(2) of the Florida Statutes. Dr. Go appealed, and Pierre and his mother cross-appealed. The appellate court rejected Dr. Go’s arguments on appeal and reversed with respect to the trial court’s reduction of damages.

Dens Pierre was admitted to Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach in August 2006 for high fever, vomiting, and a stiff neck. Dr. Go and his colleagues were charged with Pierre’s care. After two weeks of treatment, Pierre’s condition deteriorated, and he was transferred to Miami Children’s Hospital. There, doctors concluded that Pierre had suffered a stroke. Additional tests indicated that the child was positive for both herpes and Epstein-Barr viruses. An expert testified at trial that Pierre likely would not have suffered a stroke if the initial infections had been treated earlier.

Although the stroke did not affect Pierre’s physical development, it had a large impact on his neurological and behavioral development. At trial, Pierre’s attorneys elicited testimony that Pierre is unable to communicate or follow directions, engages in self-destructive behavior, suffers from morbid obesity, and has no awareness for his own safety and therefore requires constant supervision. A witness testified that Pierre has a permanent disability and will never be able to live without assistance.

After finding Dr. Go 75% liable for Pierre’s injuries, the jury awarded Pierre approximately $16 million in economic damages, and roughly $6 million each to both Pierre and his mother for past and future noneconomic damages. In light of the statutory cap on medical malpractice noneconomic damages, the trial court limited the noneconomic damages award to $500,000 per claimant.

On cross-appeal, Pierre and his mother argued that the caps on noneconomic damages found in section 766.118(2) are unconstitutional. According to controlling precedent, the court concluded that the section 766.118 caps are in fact unconstitutional in both wrongful death actions and personal injury lawsuits.

In Estate of McCall, the Florida Supreme Court held that the caps on noneconomic damages in wrongful death cases violated the Florida Constitution’s equal protection clause because they “irrationally impact[] circumstances which have multiple claimants/survivors differently and far less favorably than circumstances in which there is a single claimant/survivor.” In North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that while there are some distinctions between a wrongful death and a personal injury case, the caps are “similarly unconstitutional,” and to hold otherwise “would be disingenuous.”

Thus, the Go court held that the caps applied by the trial court to Pierre and his mother were likewise unconstitutional.

If you or a family member was injured or tragically died due to a South Florida medical provider’s negligent act, you need a hardworking personal injury lawyer on your side to advocate on your behalf. To discuss your rights with a skillful Miami medical malpractice attorney, do not hesitate to call the caring advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Samiian v. First Professionals Insurance Co., Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2015

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Appellate Court Reverses Order Denying Costs in Florida Workers’ Compensation Case, December 8, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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