McCall v. United States Decision and Consequences for Medical Malpractice Caps

April 24, 2014

In the article first released in the Trial Advocate Quarterly, Spring 2014 (volume 33, #2) edition, Jill Bechtold and Jep Barbour (both of Marks Gray, P.A.) explain the history of medical malpractice caps and the consequences from the McCall case decision. In 2003, the Florida Legislature added the noneconomic caps for wrongful death cases to the Florida Statue 766.118 including a $1 million cap for cases against practitioners and a $1.5 million cap for cases against hospitals or facilities. The Florida Legislature added the noneconomic caps in response to conclusions from the Governor’s Task Force investigation that the medical malpractice crisis was due in large part to “actual and potential jury awards of noneconomic damages”.

The McCall case began in the federal courts because the alleged negligence involved a United States Air Force clinic. The initial award was reduced from $2 million to $1 million pursuant to the caps in section 766.118. Although the Eleventh Circuit ruled on appeal that the noneconomic caps did not violate the Equal Protection Clause, they did question whether the caps violated the Florida Constitution. The resulting decision by the Florida Supreme Court held that caps on noneconomic damages in wrongful death cases are unconstitutional. The court also performed an equal protection analysis of the Governor’s Task Force 2003 conclusions that supported the noneconomic caps. The court attacked the Task Force’s findings and concluded that wrongful death caps did not correlate with easing the medical malpractice crisis. Additionally, the court concluded that the caps were not reasonable now because there was not currently a crisis and that medical malpractice claims have decreased and less has been paid in noneconomic damages.

Although the future consequences are not definite, the decision is currently limited only to wrongful death cases. Proponents of the court’s decision point out that this decision may signal the court’s reasoning that all caps are unconstitutional including personal injury caps. However, defenders of the caps argue that the court may have preserved the caps on personal injury by acknowledging that “the legal analysis for personal injury damages and wrongful death damages are not the same”. The future of medical malpractice caps should become clearer this summer after the court hears oral arguments on June 4, 2014 for the first case challenging the remaining medical malpractice caps.

Florida Supreme Court Decision: