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Estate of McCall v. USA Court Rules Florida Caps on Noneconomic Damages Violates Equal Protection

The Florida Constitution guarantees that everyone is equal before the law and a rational-basis test will be used to evaluate whether the statute being challenged bears a rational relationship to a legitimate state objective and it cannot be arbitrarily or capriciously imposed. For example: whether the damaged parties in a medical malpractice wrongful death case should be subject to a statute that affords them different rights than similarly damaged people in a slightly different context (e.g. a wrongful death that does not occur by way of medical malpractice)? Or, in this case, whether caps make sense when more than one party is afflicted by the same act of medical negligence? If so, what would the rational basis be for doing so? According to the Florida Supreme Court, forcing three claimants to share one small pot of money when, in an identical case, one person might have access to that same pot, makes no sense. The former scenario is illogical and unfairly burdens an injured party just because a single act of medical negligence gave rise to multiple claimants – their individual rights to compensation are arbitrarily diminished. For example: If a wife dies, due to the negligence of another, leaving only a surviving spouse, that spouse might be able to claim  $500,000. If that same wife was also a mother of four minor children, there would be five claimants to that same $500,000. How is this fair? How can the legislature say that those five claimants are being afforded equal protection under the law? Limiting what one claimant can claim for his loss just because there are other people who have suffered losses is irrational. On a larger scale: the greater the number of survivors and the more devastating their losses are, the less likely they are to be fully compensated for those losses.

Other State Supreme Courts have struck down caps on medical malpractice cases by concluding that it is “simply unfair and unreasonable to impose the burden of supporting the medical care industry solely upon those persons who are most severely injured and therefore in most need of compensation.??? Carson v. Maurer, 424 A.2d 825, 837 (N.H. 1980). The Florida Supreme Court concurred: “Section 766.118…has the effect of saving a modest amount for many by imposing devastating costs on a few – those who are most grievously injured, those who sustain the greatest damage and loss, and multiple claimants for whom judicially determined noneconomic damages are subject to division and reduction simply based on the existence of the cap. Under the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution…we hold that to reduce damages in this fashion is not only arbitrary, but irrational, and we conclude that it ‘offends the fundamental notion of equal justice under the law.

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