Are Caps on Damages to Medical Malpractice Victims Constitutional?

July 9, 2017
Are Caps on Damages to Medical Malpractice Victims Constitutional?

In an issue that has split justices, governors and legislatures, Florida has recently made a move in the discussion of the constitutionality of caps on medical malpractice damage awards. In early June, the Florida Supreme Court “ruled that a law limiting pain-and-suffering damages in medical malpractice cases is unconstitutional,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Here’s what this means: jurors (as opposed to politicians) in Florida can now decide the proper compensation to an injured party that is the victim of medical malpractice or wrongful death caused by medical error. Many states have passed laws (including South Carolina) distinguishing between economic and non-economic damages with a cap on non-economic damages. Economic damages are from monetary loss such as lost income and wages, medical costs, or other financial loss caused by the error. Non-economic damages are those related to things like disfigurement, scarring, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life– the more subjective part of the injury. The Florida Supreme Court found unconstitutional a law that then-Governor Jeb Bush signed limiting non-economic damages.   

Among the arguments made were that the right to trial by jury guaranteed by the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides each citizen the right to an individual inquiry on their damages as opposed to an arbitrary cap that may unfairly limit someone’s proper recovery.  Advocates for the 7th Amendment right analogize these arbitrary caps to limiting the duration of all criminal sentences to a set number of years  no matter how heinous the crime.

Currently in South Carolina, there is a cap on non-economic damages of $350,000 (adjusted based on the consumer price index to approximately $435,000 currently) for a single person suing a single medical provider.[1]  While the courts in South Carolina have consistently upheld caps on damages as constitutional, the changing approach to this litigation in Florida and other states may signal a trend toward revisiting these decisions.   

If your loved one is killed due to a health care professional’s negligence, do you think there should be a limit on the money due to your family?

If you are permanently injured due to a medical or device error, do you think there should be a cap on the recovery for disfigurement, scarring, and loss of enjoyment of your life?

If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice or a medical device malfunction in South Carolina, contact Hodge and Langley Law Firm today.

 

[1] This cap can be obviated by a showing of gross negligence.  

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