Capping Punitive Damages in Florida Medical Malpractice Cases - Estate of Michelle Evette McCall v. United States
The statutory cap on punitive damages in Florida medical malpractice cases remains intact - at least for the time being - thanks to a recent ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
In Estate of Michelle Evette McCall v. United States, the Eleventh Circuit upheld Florida's cap on non-economic medical malpractice damages, ruling that the statute under which it was enacted does not violate the U.S Constitution. However, the court opted to certify the question of whether the cap violates the Florida Constitution to the state supreme court.
Michelle McCall died in February 2006, shortly after giving birth via cesarean section at the Eglin Air Force Base hospital in southwest Florida. McCall's estate, parents and husband sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-80.
After a two-day bench trial, the District Court found the United States liable under the FTCA because the negligence of its employees proximately caused Ms. McCall's death. The District Court found that the plaintiffs' compensatory damages, or financial losses, amounted to $980,462.40 and punitive, or noneconomic damages, totaled $2 million. Because Florida Statute § 766.118(2) limits the recovery of noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice case to $1 million, the court capped these damages accordingly.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the statutory cap violates the Equal Protection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment and constitutes a taking in violation of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment. They additionally asserted that the cap violates various provisions of the Florida Constitution: (1) the guarantee of separation of powers in Article II, § 3 and Article V, § 1; (2) the right to trial by jury under Article I, § 22; (3) the right of access to the courts under Article I, § 21; (4) the right to equal protection under Article I, § 2; and (5) the prohibition against a taking of property without just compensation under Article X, § 6.