Florida Supreme Court Calls out Jeb Bush’s Medical Malpractice Crisis Task Force and Throws out Wrongful Death Damage Limits

 In Law Planet, Personal Injury

scales of justiceOver the past 25 years, the medical community and their lobby groups have falsely claimed that there was a medical malpractice crisis in Florida. The millions of dollars these lobby groups poured into political campaigns eventually led to the Florida legislature rubber-stamping a law that capped the amount of damages a person who suffered from medical malpractice or their estate could collect against a doctor or hospital. In a classic example of… if you repeat something false enough times, it eventually is perceived as true, the Florida legislature was convinced that there was a doctor crisis and that it was the fault of medical malpractice lawsuits.

Then Florida Governor Jeb Bush created a one-sided task force that drafted a report that said exactly what he wanted. There was a crisis in Florida, and it was the fault of people suing doctors. Fortunately, the Florida Supreme Court didn’t rubber-stamp the report and conducted its own inquiry into this so-called “crisis.” What they found was that the report was false; there never was a crisis and statistically lawsuits had nothing to do with the issue. It was a clear-cut example of the insurance industry falsely and fraudulently claiming there was a lawsuit problem in order to pocket more of the outrageous premiums they were charging doctors and other providers of medical services. Imagine that, an insurance company that values receipt of premiums over payment of claims!

The problem with this law was that even if there was clear cut malpractice, that everybody agreed caused significant injury, horrible disability or even death, there was a cap on the amount of money that those responsible for those injuries had to pay. Florida statute 766.118 never made any sense to most attorneys, so who wondered how Florida’s constitutional guarantee of access to the courts could be trampled on by a law that limited those with millions of dollars of damages?

Apparently it didn’t make any sense to the Florida Supreme Court either. On March 13, the Florida Supreme Court declared Florida statute 766.118 unconstitutional as applied to a wrongful death case involving a baby. What that means is that the estates of persons who have been killed because of a doctor or hospital’s negligence can now have their day in court and hold those responsible for all of the damages caused. Although the opinion limits itself to the wrongful death aspects of the statute (because the underlying case involved a death), the same logic will eventually result in non-wrongful death medical malpractice claim causing the rest of the law to be thrown out.

From a review of the logic used in the opinion, it also means that several other Florida laws that limit or restrict damages will likely eventually be thrown out for the same reasons. One of those statutes is Florida statute 324.021. This law limits and restricts the amount of damages that the owner of a dangerous instrumentality (think car) can be forced to pay if the owner lets somebody borrow it, and the driver causes significant injuries or death. Florida statute 324.021 was designed to do the same thing that the medical malpractice cap was designed to do – significantly limit the ability of horribly injured, disfigured or dead victims from recovering the full value of the damages caused. My analysis of the recent Supreme Court opinion leads me to conclude that this statute will eventually be thrown out as well.

Kudos again to the Florida Supreme Court for having the guts to issue this opinion. If you will remember several years ago, several Florida Supreme Court and District Court of Appeal judges had a vicious smear campaign thrown against them during their re-election cycle. Although none of them had really done anything wrong, they incurred the wrath of the insurance and business community, which funneled millions of dollars to political action committees to try to convince the Florida electorate to kick the judges out. Those efforts failed miserably, and all of our judges were retained.

This opinion should make the upcoming Florida election cycle very interesting when certain politicians are called to task over the false report the task force created to aid the insurance and business community.

 

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by Kittisak

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