In a 5-2 opinion issued today, the Florida Supreme Court held that a statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages violates the Equal Protection Clause of the state constitution:
[W]e conclude that section 766.118 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution under the rational basis test. The statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages fails because it imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gives rise to multiple claimants. In such circumstances, medical malpractice claimants do not receive the same rights to full compensation because of arbitrarily diminished compensation for legally cognizable claims. Further, the statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages does not bear a rational relationship to the stated purpose that the cap is purported to address, the alleged medical malpractice insurance crisis in Florida.
From the dissent:
McCall contends that the cap at issue in this case violates Florida’s equal protection guarantee because it applies on a per incident, rather than a per claimant, basis. However, the Legislature could have reasonably believed that a per incident cap would more effectively reduce noneconomic damages awards and create more stability in the insurance market than a per claimant cap would. A per incident cap leads to more predictability in the insurance market since the noneconomic damages cannot exceed the cap in any particular instance of malpractice regardless of the number of individual claimants. And the Legislature could have reasonably believed that this increased predictability would more effectively decrease medical malpractice insurance rates, thereby keeping more physicians in Florida to provide more access to quality health care (including high-risk procedures) at a lower cost to Floridians.