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Med Mal Damages Cap Declared Unconstitutional by Miami Judge

Florida’s tort reform continues to be controversial. In the past several years, the Florida Supreme Court has struck down limits on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases as unconstitutional. Non-economic damages include things like pain and suffering and emotional distress.

In a case decided in July, a Miami judge has put another nail in the coffin of medical malpractice damage caps. The decision is interesting as it shows that Florida’s courts are committed to allowing injured victims to receive fair compensation for their injuries.

The Facts of the Case

Deborah DeFranko visited Dr. Taylor Poole for cataract surgery. Unfortunately, the doctor improperly implanted a toric lens into DeFranko’s eye, causing the surgery to fail. As a result, DeFranko suffered a variety of physical ailments, including ocular pain, headaches, double vision, and chronically dry eyes. Although corrective surgery was partially successful, DeFranko continued to suffer dry eye, headache, and blurry vision.

In 2006, she filed a lawsuit for her injuries, including non-economic injuries like pain and suffering. Her husband also filed a lawsuit for negative changes to their marriage, such as loss of services, comfort, and society.

The defendant doctor made an offer to arbitrate the case, which plaintiffs declined. At trial, a jury collectively awarded the couple $500,000 in non-economic damages: $450,000 for DeFranko’s pain and suffering and $50,000 for her husband.

The Law at Issue

After the jury delivered its verdict, the defendant moved to have the non-economic damages amount reduced from $500,000 to $350,000. Under Florida Statute § 766.209, when a plaintiff refuses an offer of binding arbitration, the plaintiff’s non-economic damages are limited to $350,000. Dr. Poole’s attorney therefore submitted a motion to the judge asking that the $500,000 in non-economic damages the jury awarded the plaintiff be reduced by $150,000.

Judge Rodriguez refused. Citing prior cases, the judge held that the thirty-year statute was unfair and out of date. For example, $350,000 in 1988 was equal to roughly $750,000 today, meaning that the maximum injured victims could receive in pain and suffering was basically half of what it once was. Accordingly, the jury’s verdict stood.

What’s Next

A trial judge rarely has the final say on whether a Florida statute is constitutional. Instead, the issue might be appealed to a higher court and could end up before the state’s Supreme Court. Given its history, the Florida Supreme Court will probably strike down the statutory sections at issue. Then it is up to the legislature to try and enact a new set of medical malpractice damage caps that will pass constitutional muster.

Injured by a Doctor? Call Our Miami Personal Injury Lawyers Today

A key feature of Florida malpractice law is that victims must be fairly compensated for their injuries. At Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum Bluestein, LLP, we fight for our clients’ ability to receive compensation when a negligent doctor or other medical professional commits malpractice. And we know how to maximize the amount of non-economic damages they receive.

To start your case today, please contact us to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation. You can call us at 305-371-2692 or submit an online message.