Answering a question certified by the Eleventh Circuit, the Florida Supreme Court yesterday ruled that Florida’s statutory limit on noneconomic damages in cases of wrongful death from medical malpractice violates the Florida constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. McCall v. U.S., No. SC11-1148.
Michelle McCall was an Air Force dependent receiving care in an Air Force facility. She died after childbirth, as a result of malpractice. The family sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The district court found that the family had suffered $1 million and $2 million in economic and noneconomic damages, the latter comprising $500,000 for her son and $750,000 for each of her parents. The court reduced the $2 million to $1 million under the Florida statutory limit. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit certified four questions, including whether the cap violates Florida’s equal protection clause.
The Supreme Court answered yes. The court was particularly troubled by the unfair impact when multiple parties were harmed by a single episode, with the result that some of them might not be adequately compensated. The court also found that the legislation did not rationally relate to its stated purpose of addressing a medical malpractice crisis.