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Florida Appeals Court Strikes Down Cap on Non-economic Damages in Personal Injury Cases

One year ago, the Florida Supreme Court decided that a $1 million statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages was unconstitutional. This month, in a unanimous decision, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals extended this decision to personal injury cases. These decisions have huge implications for personal injury victims who suffer not only in terms of “economic” damages, but those that are “noneconomic” in nature as well, such as pain and suffering.

Florida Cap

Florida state law has historically placed a limitation on noneconomic damages (aka nonfinancial losses including pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, etc.) for the negligence of practitioner and nonpractitioner defendants with respect to a cause of action for personal injury or wrongful death.

Estate of McCall v. United States

In the 2014 case, even though the defendant was found guilty of negligence, the plaintiff’s wrongful death noneconomic damages were limited to $1,000,000 due to Florida law, regardless of what the jury decided that she deserved for her suffering. McCall challenged the constitutionality of Florida’s noneconomic damages caps generally in wrongful death cases, leaving the question to be addressed by the Florida Supreme Court to be whether the statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages, under state law, violates the right to equal protection under the Florida state constitution.

In its decision, the Court pointed out that caps irrationally impact cases that have multiple survivors (or claimants) far less favorably than cases that have a single survivor/claimant. The Court also found that there was no justification for the arbitrary reduction of survivors’ noneconomic damages in wrongful death cases based on the number of survivors.

2015 Application to Personal Injury Cases

Although the Florida Supreme Court’s decision only addressed the caps on noneconomic damages awarded in wrongful death actions, the state statute itself applies to both personal injury and wrongful death actions. In addressing the statute as a whole (as it applies to both wrongful death and personal injury), the Appeals Court concluded that the overall statute (section 766.118) lacks a rational and reasonable relation to any state objective, and that caps are unconstitutional not only in wrongful death actions, but also in personal injury suits, because they violate equal protection. Injured parties with noneconomic damages in excess of the caps are left not fully compensated due to the state law.

Cap on Noneconomic Damages Removed

Florida and other states have been striking at the underpinnings of legislative caps on noneconomic damages in general because they discriminate between classes of victims—in wrongful death, personal injury, medical malpractice, and other contexts. In making these decisions, trial courts then have to reinstate total damages awarded by juries.

Clearwater Wrongful Death and Personal Injury Attorney

Wrongful death and personal injury cases can be difficult. Showing that an injured or deceased individual suffered physical pain or mental trauma can be traumatic and require the testimony of expert witnesses.

Clearwater attorney Mike Walker is experienced in handling personal injury wrongful death cases. He understands the emotional pain and suffering, along with the physical realities, that accompany personal injuries or losing a loved one unexpectedly. He is committed to helping you understand what compensation may be available to you and helping you understand the court process. Mike Walker will vigorously fight for the damages you deserve. This includes any pain and suffering you and the deceased may have experienced. Contact the office today for a free consultation.

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