In the case of Taylor Poole, MD v. Deborah DeFranko, et al., Case Number 3D18-1809 (Fla. 3rd DCA December 18, 2019), Florida’s Third DCA held that Florida’s damage caps in medical malpractice arbitration and the sanction for failing to accept arbitration are constitutional.
Ms. DeFranko took her medical malpractice case to trial and received a successful jury verdict of $450,000. After the verdict, Dr. Poole filed a motion to reduce the final judgment down to $350,000 according to section 766.209, Fla. Stat. which specifies a cap on damages after failing to accept an offer of medical malpractice arbitration. The trial judge denied Dr. Poole’s motion. Dr. Poole appealed and the Third DCA reversed.
Ms. DeFranko’s husband was also awarded $50,000 by the jury. The Third DCA affirmed the verdict with respect to him and the separate judgment entered on his behalf awarding $50,000. (See St. Mary’s Hospital, Inc. v. Phillipe, 769 So. 2d 961 (Fla. 2000) for the so-called “St. Mary’s Rule” that invalidates the $350,000 cap on all claimants and instead inserts a $350,000 per claimant cap).
Constitutionality of Medical Malpractice Damage Caps
Without extensive discussion, the Third DCA held that sections 766.207 and 766.209 are constitutional despite the decisions of the Florida Supreme Court in Estate of McCall v. United States, 134 So. 3d 894 (Fla. 2014) and in North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan, 219 So. 3d 49 (Fla. 2017).
McCall and Kalitan were cases that struck down damage caps in medical malpractice cases as unconstitutional. However, those cases also only dealt with noneconomic damages (i.e. pain and suffering) and there was not an offer of medical malpractice arbitration or the required admission of liability in order to offer arbitration by a defendant.
While the opinion does not say that directly, it is likely that the Third DCA felt that the quid pro quo (or trade off) for defendants getting the damages cap is that liability must be admitted by the defendant in order to make an offer to go to medical malpractice arbitration.
Further, while the opinion does not this directly either, the application of the St. Mary’s rule in awarding the husband $50,000 for his claim is likely another factor behind the Third DCA’s decision to uphold the caps. Likewise, if the St. Mary’s rule either did not exist or if courts were not enforcing it, then the outcome may have been different.
One should also keep in mind that medical malpractice arbitration is VOLUNTARY and very few medical malpractice cases in Florida ever see a defendant admit liability and offer to go to arbitration.
Talk To A Lakeland Medical Malpractice Lawyer About Your Case
If you have questions about medical malpractice in Florida, you should contact Russo Law for a free consultation. We offer free consultations to help determine whether your case has legal merit. We accept cases on a contingency fee basis. There are no attorney fees or costs unless are able to recover money for you. Call us today to schedule your free consultation with a Lakeland medical malpractice attorney.