The Current State of Caps on “Noneconomic Damages” in Florida
Are you familiar with the distinction between economic and non-economic damages in a personal injury case? Economic damages are defined under Florida law as “nonfinancial losses that would not have occurred but for the injury giving rise to the cause of action, including pain and suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish, disfigurement, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life, and other non-financial losses.” On the other hand, economic damages are verifiable financial losses resulting from an injury, including loss of income, past and future medical expenses, cost or repairs and replacement, etc.
As you might imagine, and as our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green understand, non-economic damages are much harder to ascertain for the very reason that they are non-economic. For example, while it’s fairly easy to calculate the amount of “economic” harm from a $12,000 surgery (economic harm: $12,000), it is far more difficult to figure out the dollar amount to place on the pain and suffering resulting from the injury and surgery.
For a long time, non-economic damages were viewed as less compensatory than economic damages which served to make the injured party’s wallet “whole” again. The Florida statutes long reflected this belief: Fla. Stat. § 766.18 capped non-economic damages at $500,000 per claimant in cases of personal injury arising from medical negligence of practitioners.
As our personal injury lawyers know, this arbitrary cap was front-and-center in a North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan (2017), a case decided by the Florida Supreme Court this summer. In Kalitan, the Court held that the cap on non-economic damages recoverable in a medical negligence case was unconstitutional as in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution, embodied in Art I, § 2 of Florida’s Constitution. In the opinion, available here, the Court discussed how it had previously found that the cap on non-economic damages in the context of a wrongful death action was unconstitutional. In finding that the Court’s prior decision could be extended to the personal injury context, the Court concluded “that the statutory caps in section 766.118 unreasonably and arbitrarily limit recovery of those most grievously injured by medical negligence.”
Victims of medical negligence should not be arbitrarily limited by blanket caps on non-economic damages; each instance of medical negligence is unique, and each person suffers in a unique way. Why should an injury resulting in a bruised finger be subject to the same damages cap as an injury resulting in loss of limbs? For these reasons, our personal injury lawyers at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green believe that the Florida Supreme Court made the right decision in finding the non-economic damages cap to be unconstitutional.