The Florida Supreme Court affirmed the 4th District Court of Appeal’s decision to deem a statute unconstitutional that would cap noneconomic damages in a personal injury case. The opinion on June 8, supported the appeal court’s decision that the caps of about $500,000 to $1 million that section 766.118 puts on personal injury noneconomic damages in medical negligence actions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution, reports the Florida Record. The case revolved around a plaintiff suing North Broward Hospital District after being allegedly injured during her carpal tunnel syndrome surgery.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Surgery Background
In 2007, the plaintiff went to North Broward Hospital District for outpatient surgery to treat carpal tunnel syndrome in her wrist. The surgery required general anesthesia for the patient. During intubation, as part of the administration of anesthesia for the plaintiff’s surgery, one of the tubes perforated her esophagus. Prior to the surgery and intubation, the plaintiff had no problems with her esophagus, nor did she complain of any bodily pain unassociated with her carpal tunnel issue.
Seriousness of Esophageal Perforation
Esophageal perforation is a medical emergency. Statistics reveal that a delay in diagnosis of more than 24 hours doubles the overall mortality rate from 14 to 27 percent. Medical malpractice litigation against anesthesiologists may arise from procedural complications following the placement of an epidural catheter or administration of anesthesia by intubation. Failure to control an airway during intubation may result in serious damage. As is demonstrated in this case, medical negligence litigation can be very complex.
When the plaintiff awoke in recovery, she complained of excruciating pain in her chest and back. The anesthesiologist was alerted and, unaware of the perforated esophagus, he ordered the administration of a drug for the chest pain and concluded that there was no issue with the plaintiff’s heart. The plaintiff was discharged from the hospital later that afternoon and picked up by her neighbor who drove her home. The next day, when the neighbor returned to check on the plaintiff, the plaintiff was unresponsive, so the neighbor took her to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. The plaintiff’s problem was diagnosed and she was rushed into life-saving surgery to repair her esophagus.
The plaintiff’s next memory was waking up in the intensive care unit after being in a drug-induced coma for several weeks. The plaintiff had additional surgeries and underwent intensive therapy to begin eating again and to regain mobility. She testified that she continues to suffer from pain throughout the upper half of her body and from serious mental disorders resulting from the traumatic incident and the loss of independence because of her body’s physical limitations following this incident.
A jury found that the plaintiff suffered “catastrophic injury.” The jury awarded her $4,718,011 in total damages, with $2 million of the award accounting for pain she had already suffered and the other $2 million accounting for future pain and suffering. After considering that cap provided in section 766.118 of the Florida Statute and raising the cap due to the catastrophic injury experienced, the trial court reduced the award to $2 million. The award was further reduced to $1.3 million because North Broward Hospital’s share of liability was capped at $100,000, the Florida Record reports.
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Citing a Previous Case
The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s decision to enforce section 766.118, arguing that the statute is unconstitutional. The appeals court used an earlier case to reach a conclusion on the matter. The case concerned a woman who died after the birth of her son due to medical negligence. In reference to this case, the court ruled that the $1 million statutory caps enforced due to section 766.118 was unconstitutional.
The appeals court applied the same reasoning from the earlier case to the current plaintiff’s appeal and concluded the caps placed on the plaintiff’s award violated the Florida Constitution. North Broward Hospital filed several complaints against the ruling, challenging whether the plaintiff actually suffered a catastrophic injury. Each complaint was denied, state court documents, according to the Florida Report.
The Florida Supreme Court reviewed the earlier case and determined that the caps on noneconomic damages in section 766.118 “arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries.” The high court agreed with the appeals court that the statute violates the Constitution and remanded to the appeals court for further proceedings.
Legal Information for Potential Medical Negligence Lawsuits
If you or someone you know has been injured by alleged medical negligence, you may be eligible for compensation. Parker Waichman LLP offers free, no-obligation case evaluation. We urge you to contact us at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).