Lawmakers are once again working with their friends in the insurance industry to limit damages for pain and suffering in Florida tort cases. The move comes only two years after the Florida Supreme Court rejected pain and suffering caps in medical malpractice cases as against the Florida Constitution.
Florida lawmakers are once more trying to prevent injured victims from getting the compensation that they deserve when they’re hurt in an accident. According to expert Miami personal injury attorneys, injury damages reform impacts all of society. Here’s what you need to know.
Florida Lawmakers Are Trying to Limit Pain and Suffering Compensation
Florida lawmakers again want to prevent accident injury victims from recovering for the true value of their claims. Lawmakers hope to place arbitrary caps on what injury victims can recover for their pain and suffering. Even if a victim suffers a significant amount of pain and suffering because of severe, life-changing injuries, lawmakers want to pick an arbitrary dollar amount as the most that accident victims can recover. The proposed limit would apply only to pain and suffering damages.
Representative Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach) is sponsoring the legislation. He says that his business interests with the insurance companies have nothing to do with his support of the legislation. Leek says that the reforms are necessary for stability for insurers. He says that the measures will lower costs for businesses who must pay for litigation expenses.
Proponents of the reform measures agree that the pain and suffering damage caps will help insurers and doctors. But opponents say that it’s all at the expense of suffering accident victims. They say it’s incredibly unfair for victims to suffer so that insurance companies can have it easier and increase their profit margins.
The Florida Supreme Court Previously Said That Pain and Suffering Damage Caps Are Unconstitutional
Legislators hoping to limit pain and suffering damages are fighting an uphill battle. The Florida Supreme Court already considered and rejected pain and suffering damage caps in medical malpractice cases. In the 2017 North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan case, the court rejected damage caps in medical malpractice claims. In the Kalitan case, the Florida Supreme Court said that it is unconstitutional to place an arbitrary limit on pain and suffering damages because the limits unfairly deny equal protection of the law for all injured victims.
The Florida Constitution Equal Protection Guarantee
The Florida State Constitution guarantees individuals equal protection under the law. Equal protection means that the law must treat all citizens the same. Even though the law can treat other people differently when they fall into different categories, the state must have a very good reason to justify treating different people differently.
For example, the State of Florida has a minimum age for a person to get a driver’s license. The age requirement is constitutional because the state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that drivers on the roads are safe. However, for something like disallowing some personal injury accident victims from recovering for the full value of their losses, it’s much harder for the state to prove that the discrimination against a particular class of people serves a legitimate government interest.
Equal Protection and the Rational Relationship Test
To determine whether pain and suffering caps violate the equal protection clause of the Florida Constitution, the Florida Supreme Court employed the rational relationship test. The rational relationship test, or rational basis test, determines whether a law has any rational relationship to a legitimate government interest. The government can discriminate against different classes of citizens in some circumstances. However, the discrimination must relate to a rational government interest. The rational basis test is the default test that the government uses to determine whether a law is constitutional.
In the Kalitan test, the court ruled that while there may be a medical malpractice crisis, there’s no rational relationship between arbitrarily limiting damage caps for certain individuals and medical malpractice insurance. There’s no proof that preventing this class of citizens from collecting deserved compensation for pain and suffering helps the medical malpractice system, the Florida Supreme Court said. The Court noted that because there’s no relationship between the damages limitation and improving medical malpractice insurance overall, the law failed to meet constitutional standards.
The North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan Case
In the Kalitan case, the victim arrived at the hospital for outpatient carpal tunnel surgery. During the operation, an anesthesia tube perforated her esophagus. The anesthesiologist failed to notice, and the hospital discharged the woman. The woman’s neighbor later found her unconscious. The jury awarded the woman $4 million, but the court reduced the amount to $2 million because of the damage limitations law. The Florida Supreme Court stepped in and ruled that statutory pain and suffering damages are unconstitutional.
Lawmakers Hope to Overturn the North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan Case
Even though the Florida Supreme Court soundly rejected pain and suffering caps in Kalitan case, lawmakers are hoping to capitalize on personnel changes on the Florida Supreme Court. Proponents of the changes say a split court decided the Kalitan decision with a narrow majority. They say that current Supreme Court members are favorable to overturn the previous court decision. Opponents say that running to overturn a recent court decision based on changed court personnel only politicizes the court and leaves citizens open to wild swings in politically-motivated court decisions.
Florida Personal Injury Damage Laws
Lawmakers continue to try and override the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida State Constitution by passing arbitrary caps on non-economic damages in Florida tort cases. But the Florida personal injury team at Bernstein & Maryanoff are prepared to fight on behalf of injury victims in Miami and throughout the State of Florida.
Jack Bernstein and his team have decades of experience helping victims with all kinds of injury cases. They’re prepared to fight for you no matter the legal issue including when your case involves fighting for equal protection under the Florida constitution.