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Florida Supreme Court rules statutory caps on noneconomic damages in medical negligence cases unconstitutional

On June 8, 2017, in North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan, No. SC15-1858, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth DCA’s decision that the monetary caps imposed by F.S. section 766.118 on personal injury noneconomic damages in medical negligence cases violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution. The Florida Supreme Court’s decision was the inevitable consequence of its previous decision in Estate of McCall v. United States, 134 So. 3d 894 (Fla. 2014) in which the Court similarly held that the same caps were unconstitutional when applied to wrongful death damages.

Where no suspect class or fundamental right is implicated, a statute will survive Equal Protection analysis if (i) it bears a rational and reasonable relationship to a legitimate state objective, and (ii) it is not arbitrarily or capriciously imposed. In Estate of McCall, The Court based its finding on a determination that the medical negligence caps failed both tests. The caps created “arbitrary and invidious discrimination” between classes of medical negligence victims by arbitrarily reducing damages that may be awarded to the most drastically injured victims. In addition, the caps did not bear a rational relationship to a legitimate state objective because there was a lack of evidence of a continuing medical negligence insurance crisis (the original alleged justification for the caps) or that the caps alleviated this alleged crisis.