What Is A Medical Malpractice Cap?

Medical malpractice caps are put into place legislatively to prevent lawsuits from asking for obscene amounts of money from a defendant — even if justified. For example, Florida state once capped medical malpractice lawsuits at $500,000 for non-economic damages in most cases. A larger cap of $1,000,000 is placed on non-economic damages if the victim died as a result. Are these caps fair? 

It depends on who you ask.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that such caps “arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries.”

Most advocates of caps say they unfairly damage the ability of doctors and hospitals to continue performing the required services and that they could damage our healthcare system by putting good providers out of business for a single costly mistake. Capping also limits insurance premium hikes and reduces the cost of healthcare, they say.

Opponents of caps say that they put an unfair burden on the victim by eliminating fair payouts for catastrophic injuries. Why shouldn’t someone be held accountable for the damage caused?

Before you can fully understand the arguments for or against — which both hinge on whether or not they are constitutional — you need to understand that a plaintiff can request either economic or non-economic damages, or both. Economic damages are more tangible, and usually include hospital bills. Non-economic damages are less tangible, and might include pain and suffering. Usually, the argument is whether or not non-economic damages should be capped.

Even with the caps in place, the court system can sometimes prevail on behalf of the plaintiff. For example, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals reinstated a jury verdict for a $4 million payout after another court cut it in half due to capping. The justification? The caps on non-economic damages would have taken away the plaintiff’s right to equal protection under the law. The court also asserted that caps do nothing to deter insurance rate hikes.

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