North Broward Hospital District, et al. v. Susan Kalitan, SC15-1858. The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a 2007 medical malpractice case involving a dental assistant who went to the hospital for carpal tunnel surgery. The patient, Susan Kalitan, ended up with a perforated esophagus from lines inserted for anesthesia during the procedure.
This case follows a recent opinion in 2014 by the Florida Supreme Court in Estate of McCall wherein the Court struck down as unconstitutional the medical malpractice damage award caps as applied to wrongful death cases. Likewise, Kalitan involves a Fourth DCA opinion that struck down the same medical malpractice damage caps as applied to personal injury cases in addition to the death cases.
The Legislature passed the medical malpractice damage caps in 2003 as part of a major tort reform of the medical malpractice system. Those caps can be found in section 766.118, Florida Statutes and place limits on pain and suffering awards. Kalitan was awarded $4.7 million as a result of injuries suffered due to her procedure and far exceeds the caps.
2003 Tort Reforms And “Malpractice Crisis”
The primary reason cited by proponents of the 2003 tort reform movement was a malpractice insurance premium crisis and that physicians would leave the State of Florida rather than pay increased insurance premiums. In over 12 years since the passage of the damage caps, the volume of malpractice claims has not increased but the payouts have decreased due to the caps. There does not appear to be any evidence that doctors actually left the state and insurance premiums, despite the damage caps, still continued to increase. Meanwhile, insurance company profits soared.
Political Interests At Play
The real problem with this situation is that highly funded political interests won out in Tallahassee. Those political interests did not trust a jury of six people from the community with the insurance companies’ money. As a result, the jury system was undermined and people with claims suffered for many years.
Assuming that the Fourth DCA opinion is upheld by the Florida Supreme Court (a reversal would cause a direct conflict with the public policy announced in Estate of McCall), think about all of the cases that were settled in the last 12 years under the damage caps.
If those claimants had the opportunity to re-negotiate their settlements or verdicts, you can imagine that they most certainly would under the new court ruling. For those people, justice delayed is still justice denied because their case results cannot be changed after the fact.