Florida law generally allows a person injured by another's negligence to recover damages for the wide variety of economic and non-economic harms that may result. In Estrada v. Mercy Hospital, Florida's Third District Court of Appeal explains that the damages award may include lost earnings for a person whose life is expected to be cut short due to the injury.
After being diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in September 2010, Ms. Estrada sued Mercy Hospital and Dr. Amisha Agarwal for negligence, claiming that Agarwal failed to report evidence of micro-calcifications during a routine mammogram more than two years earlier. The defendants admitted liability and the parties agreed to have an arbitration panel determine the damages incurred by Estrada as a result of the negligence.
Estrada argued that, because her life expectancy had been "severely curtailed" as a result of the hospital's negligence, she was entitled to damages covering lost earnings over the course of her "pre-injury" life expectancy (more than 82 years). While the panel heard such evidence, it ultimately rejected Estrada's assertion. The panel awarded her more than $1 million in damages, a figure that included $365,000 in lost earnings for time that she would be unable to work because of the cancer during her shortened life expectancy.
The Third District reversed the decision on appeal. The court held that Estrada was entitled to damages for lost earning capacity for the years following her expected death until the time she would have likely otherwise died, had the cancer been diagnosed earlier. "It is the function of an award of damages to place the injured party in an actual, as distinguished from a theoretical position, financially equal to that which he would have occupied had his injuries not occurred," the court explained, quoting the Florida Supreme Court's 1950 decision in Renuart Lumber Yards v. Levine. Indeed, Section 766.202(3), Florida Statutes (2012), which governs arbitration awards in medical negligence cases, defines "economic damages" as "financial losses that would not have occurred but for the injury giving rise to the cause of action."
The court rejected the hospital's assertion that allowing recovery for damages incurred after Estrada's expected death would wrongly compensate her heirs for the injury, rather than Estrada herself. While the claim was for negligence - it was not a wrongful death action on behalf of Estrada's family - the court noted that Florida law bars a subsequent wrongful death action related to injuries for which a person has already been compensated in a personal injury claim. As a result, the arbitration panel should have considered damages caused by the defendants' negligence that may be incurred following Estrada's death, according to the court.