In 2006, Florida woman Fedeline Normil took her son, Dens Pierre, to the emergency room with a high fever, vomiting, and a stiff neck. He was treated at the hospital for over two weeks with no positive changes; in fact, after two weeks, he was transferred to Miami Children’s Hospital over concerns that his condition had worsened. Physicians at Miami Children’s found that Dens had suffered a stroke, and that he was positive for both herpes and Epstein-Barr. Expert witnesses determined that Dens would likely not have suffered the stroke if the initial infections were found and treated earlier.
The stroke significantly impacted the child’s neurological and behavioral development, and Fedeline filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the initial physicians. At trial, she testified that Dens is unable to communicate, injures himself, suffers from morbid obesity, has little awareness for his own safety, and will never be able to live without assistance. The trial jury found for Dens and his mother, finding that the physicians were 75 percent responsible for Dens’s injuries, and awarded him over $16 million in economic damages, and gave both Dens and his mother each $6 million in noneconomic damages. At the time of the trial, Florida had a statutory cap on noneconomic damages, so the court reduced the $6 million each in noneconomic damages to $500,000 each, decreasing the total verdict to $22 million rather than the initial $28.5 million.
Florida’s Law on Medical Malpractice Damages
Florida’s medical malpractice statute applied noneconomic damages – i.e. those for pain and suffering or other nontangible injuries – in medical malpractice cases, limiting such damages to $500,000 or $1 million, depending on the situation and the number of plaintiffs. In 2014, the Florida Supreme Court rejected medical malpractice noneconomic damage caps as unconstitutional. In Estate of McCall, the Court held that such caps violated constitutional rights to equal protection, stating that damage caps impact claims with multiple plaintiffs in wrongful death lawsuits less favorably than those with a single plaintiff, and further negatively affect medical malpractice victims with large families by limiting the amount of noneconomic damages the family may receive. Likewise, the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida – the same court hearing Dens and his mother’s case – held in 2015 that damage caps were unconstitutional in both wrongful death and personal injury suits because they violate equal protection laws.
District Court Reinstates Initial Verdict
In light of the Florida Supreme Court’s recent opinions on damage caps and its own 2015 holding stating the same, the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida reversed the trial court’s judgment that Dens and his mother’s damages be reduced. The court reaffirmed that caps on noneconomic damages found in the Florida statutes are unconstitutional and instructed the trial court to change the judgment to reflect the original amount of noneconomic damages awarded in the jury’s verdict.
What Does This Mean For You?
If you or a loved one has been injured due to a doctor or hospital’s negligence, you may be able to recover damages for both economic damages like medical bills and noneconomic damages, which will no longer be capped. Experienced Ocala medical malpractice lawyer, John Piccin, at Piccin & Glynn has handled medical malpractice cases for decades, and will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. Call John at 352-581-6174 for a free consultation to discuss your case today.