In 2003, the Florida Legislature passed a law signed by Governor Jeb Bush stating that, regardless of the actual damages suffered by a Floridian as a result of medical negligence, there must be caps on damages. This law was passed to protect doctors and insurance companies, though lobbyists for the insurance industry promised it would also reduce insurance premiums to doctors. Unfortunately, many doctors may not have seen a reduction in premiums and there is no data to corroborate that Floridians now have better access to medical care and treatment.
In 2008, Ms. Smith (real name redacted) underwent surgery. During the surgery, the anesthesiologist perforated her esophagus, which caused her to have a very serious infection, requiring further surgeries on her chest and neck. She had to be placed into a drug induced coma for more than three weeks and sustained lifelong damage that now restricts her ability to eat, drink, and breathe. Her esophagus, chest and neck were permanently damaged, leaving her with significant scarring from the additional surgeries that she had to undergo.
Based on the law that puts caps on damages, a judge cut the jury award by 50%. Ms. Smith appealed the arbitrary reduction, saying that it was an unconstitutional violation for a validly rendered decision of a jury, which was reduced by an arbitrary formula simply to save insurance companies money.
The Florida Constitution provides that, “The right of trial by jury shall be secure to all and remain inviolate. The qualifications and the number of jurors, not fewer than six, shall be fixed by law.” The law passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bush clearly violated the Florida Constitution, at least according to the 4th District Court of Appeals, who reinstated the jury verdict in Ms. Smith’s case. The Court also stated that the law discriminated against various classes of Florida citizens by allowing judges to reduce some jury verdicts and not others.
Our country was founded on the principle that citizens should have a voice in decision making, which created the jury system. Instead of the ruling of a single judge, citizens would have a voice in the courtroom. We have a system where we are judged by our peers in most cases; a system which has worked for nearly 250 years. The 4th District Court of Appeals’ decision against the caps on damages preserves the right of juries to decide cases after hearing all the evidence in any given case.
A jury made up of citizens who live, work and pay taxes in our community are truly the conscience of our communities and we should all work to preserve this system of justice.
If you, a friend, or loved one is injured due to a medical negligence claim, please do not hesitate to contact us to speak with an attorney at 407-841-7699. For additional resources, keep checking our blog, LIKE us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more helpful hints and to always be informed about best practices in law.