Susan Kalitan was undergoing carpal tunnel surgery in a Florida hospital when the anesthesia tube administered by her doctor punctured her esophagus. Susan awoke after the surgery and immediately told her doctors that she was experiencing severe pain in her back and chest, but they dismissed her complaints. The doctors gave Susan pain medication and sent her home.
The following day, a neighbor found Susan unconscious in her home. Susan was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she underwent emergency surgery and was put in a medically induced coma for several weeks. The treatment saved Susan’s life, but to this day she experiences significant pain and struggles to live a normal life.
Susan filed a lawsuit against the North Broward Hospital District and other liable parties in 2008. She was awarded $4 million in non-economic damages. However, when it came time for Susan to receive her compensation, it was reduced to a fraction of the original number.
Why was Susan’s small victory in a long procession of painful and unjust circumstances taken away from her? Because back in 2003, then-Governor Jeb Bush was looking for a way to help out Florida insurance companies.
That year, Bush and other lawmakers drafted a law to cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases at the arbitrary sum of $500,000, with a $1 million cap for cases deemed “catastrophic.” No matter how bad the injuries, no matter how flagrant the doctor’s abuse, no matter how many millions of dollars the patient would have to pay for future medical treatment, their compensation was capped at the number Jeb Bush decided.
Susan Kalitan disagreed with this law. So she took her case to the Florida Supreme Court.
In June, the Court ruled in a 4-3 vote that the damages caps were unconstitutional. The decision acknowledged that the caps instituted in 2003 were arbitrary, and that there was no evidence they had any impact on Florida insurance premiums–the primary justification Bush gave for implementing the caps in the first place.
Most importantly, the decision cited the fact that damages caps disproportionately harm those who are suffering the most, because it is only the most seriously harmed patients who are awarded non-economic damages greater than $500,000. In the Court’s words, “The caps on noneconomic damages … arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries.”
Nicole Segal, a lawyer representing Susan Kalitan, takes this a step further.”This will affect every single person who brings a medical negligence case,” said Segal, following the Court’s decision. Segal notes that many medical malpractice victims since 2003 were turned down by attorneys because of how costly it can be to litigate medical malpractice cases, with limited potential return. Many law firms simply did not bother to take on these cases due to the arbitrary caps.
The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling is a major victory for injured victims and restores the role of the jury to determine fair compensation.
Farrington, Brendan. “Florida Caps in Malpractice Cases Ruled Unconstitutional.” U.S. News and World Report 08 June 2017.
Saunders, Jim. “Supreme Court Rejects Medical Malpractice Caps.” News 4 Jax 08 June 2017.