Legislative-Judicial battle over damage caps for medical malpractice claims

Another salvo was recently launched in the ongoing battle between the State's legislators and its judiciary (and, likely, personal injury lobbyists as well) on the issue of damage caps.  In this instance, the action dealt with caps on medical malpractice claims.  N. Broward Hosp. Dist. v. Kalitan, 42 Fla. L. Weekly S642 (Fla. June 8, 2017).

In Kalitan, the Supreme Court of Florida considered and dismissed notions of a "continuing medical malpractice insurance crisis" listed and argued by the State in support of damage caps on medical malpractice claims for personal injury non-economic (i.e., 'pain and suffering') damages.   The Court found that the caps violated the Equal Protection Clause, citing its own opinion in a previous case where it determined that a similar cap was unconstitutional because it "'imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties' and 'does not bear a rational relationship to the stated purpose that the cap is purported to address, the alleged medical malpractice insurance crisis in Florida.'"  

It seems strange to say that damage caps, which aim to reduce potential exposure for insurers, is not rationally related to that aim, however, the Court pointed out that there was a lack of evidence to suggest the caps "that were intended to reduce instances of doctors leaving Florida, retiring early, or refusing to perform high risk procedures" were actually having that effect or were even resulting in lower premiums.  The Court noted that Insurance company profits were up following the caps, but that the savings were not being passed on to individual insured physicians. 

This case certainly seems to be a situation where insurers may have made their own bed and are now being forced to lie in it.  If the insurers had been able to produce evidence that they had actually reduced premiums and increased the number of insured physicians, they may have been able to preserve the caps.  Yet, instead it appears the insurers took the stance that putting money directly into their coffers now made more business sense. 

It is unlikely this decision will end the debate (or legislation) on damage caps, especially given the State's finding that "Florida is in the midst of a medical malpractice insurance crisis of unprecedented magnitude." Ch. 2003-416, § 1, Laws of Fla., at 4035