The Florida Supreme Court's ruling this spring invalidating that state's 11-year-old cap on damages in medical malpractice suits marks the latest successful challenge to state laws across the nation that critics say enrich insurance companies but deny due process to grievously injured people.
"It is unfortunately a constant battle for victims of malpractice. This seems to go on in just about every state," says Richard Levin, a medical malpractice attorney with the Chicago-based firm of Levin, Riback Law Group.
"What seems to be the overriding ethos of the insurance companies and the physicians is that the premiums are too high and doctors are leaving the state and as a result we have a malpractice crisis. But the statistics bear out the exact opposite."
The battle over malpractice caps reignited in March when on a 5–2 ruling the Florida Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a 2003 statute that capped at $1 million medical malpractice payouts for intangible damages such as pain and suffering.
The Florida case involved the 2006 death of a pregnant 20-year-old woman who died from complications that arose during labor. The woman's family was awarded $2 million for pain and suffering, but that award was halved to comply with the state statute, which was passed into law at a time when many states were enacting "tort reform."