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Florida Cap on Noneconomic Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases Cannot Be Applied Retroactively – Miles v. Weingrad

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Generally, there are two types of damages available in personal injury cases:  economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic damages compensate an injured person for things like lost wages, property damage, and medical expenses. Noneconomic damages provide remediation for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and similar losses.

Several years ago, the Florida legislature passed a statute that placed a cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. Recently, the statute supreme court was called upon to determine whether the cap could be applied retroactively.

The Issue before the Court

Can a statutory amendment limiting noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice case be applied retroactively?

The Facts of the Case 

In Miles v. Weingrad, the plaintiff developed a cancerous tumor on her leg in late 2002. After having the tumor removed, she sought a second opinion from the defendant doctor in early 2003. In 2006, the plaintiff and her husband filed a medical malpractice lawsuit. The case went to trial and resulted in a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. The jury awarded the woman $16,104 in economic damages and $1.45 million in noneconomic damages. Her husband was awarded $50,000 for his losses.

The doctor moved the trial court for a reduction in the amount of noneconomic damages, arguing that the jury’s verdict was subject to the $500,000 noneconomic damages cap set forth in Flo. Stat. § 766.118(2) (2003). The trial court denied the motion, but the Court of Appeals for the Third District of Florida reversed, holding that the statute could be denied retroactively and that this was constitutional because the plaintiff did not have a vested right in a certain damages award.

On remand, the trial court entered a judgment in compliance with the appellate court’s ruling on the noneconomic damages cap. The plaintiff again appealed, this time arguing that the appellate court’s ruling was in conflict with decisions by another district court of appeals and the state supreme court in similar cases. The Third District rejected the plaintiff’s argument and affirmed its prior decision.

On Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court

On further review, the Florida Supreme Court quashed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case with instructions to reinstate the original judgment. The court noted that the plaintiff’s cause of action accrued some seven months before the cap went into effect and that a statute cannot be applied retroactively if it impairs vested rights, creates new obligations, or imposes new penalties.

To Get Advice from an Experienced South Florida Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you or a family member has been the victim of medical malpractice, you need to speak to an attorney who can help you determine whether it would be worthwhile to file a lawsuit against the medical provider who harmed you or your family member. To speak to one of Cohn & Smith’s knowledgeable medical negligence attorneys, call 954-431-8100 and schedule an appointment with a member of our legal team. We serve all of south Florida, including Fort Lauderdale, Davie, and Pompano Beach.

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