Medical malpractice cases involve a lot of money in Florida. The state ranks only 39th for number of malpractice cases, with just 16 cases per 100,000 people in 2015, but those cases included a whopping $248.9 million in payouts. There are no damages caps in Florida, which means that malpractice lawyers can and do fight hard to get their clients the compensation they deserve for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other intangible consequences of medical negligence.
If you were harmed by a doctor or hospital in Florida, you need to select an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who understands the complicated laws governing these cases in the state. A good lawyer can guide you and make sure that the laws work in your favor. This expert will give you the best possible chance of getting justice for the harm caused to you or a loved one.
Florida Medical Malpractice Laws
The set of laws that govern malpractice cases in the state is complex and often changes with the addition of new laws and with parts that are struck down as unconstitutional, as has happened in recent years. While malpractice lawyers can guide their clients through these laws, it is also good for patients to understand some of the basic components of malpractice law in order to protect their own best interests.
All states set a statute of limitations, for instance, on the time a patient has to file a lawsuit for malpractice. In Florida that limit is two years, either from the time the negligence occurred or the time the patient discovered it or should have reasonably discovered it. Minors have two years or until their eighth birthday to file a lawsuit. For wrongful death, the statute of limitations is two years from the time of death.
Other laws include specific caps on attorney fees in malpractice cases, limits on punitive damages, and immunities for some plaintiffs. The latter include public institutions such as the state and counties. The law also includes comparative negligence. This means that if the patient is found to be at fault in the harm suffered the damages received will be diminished to a corresponding degree. For example if the patient is found to bear 20 percent of the fault for an injury, damages awarded will be reduced by 20 percent.
Affidavit of Merit Makes Malpractice Cases More Difficult
In 2013 lawmakers in Florida introduced a bill that was signed into law and made malpractice cases more difficult for victims to file. The law requires that plaintiffs submit an affidavit of merit or signed expert opinion in order to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. This is designed to reduce frivolous lawsuits, but it also makes filing a suit harder.
Plaintiffs must find a qualified expert, present the expert with evidence of the negligent act, and get a signed affidavit stating that the expert believes the case has merit. This places an additional burden on the victim of negligence. It also may make it more difficult for lawyers to take on certain cases and may cause more victims to struggle to file lawsuits within the statute of limitations.
Damages Cap Declared Unconstitutional
In 2003 Florida’s legislators created a non-economic damages cap, limiting the amount of compensation a plaintiff could be awarded for things such as pain and suffering. In 2017 that law was declared unconstitutional in a four-to-three vote by the Florida Supreme Court. The justices voting in favor of striking down the cap stated that it hurts people who have been most harmed by medical negligence. It reduces damages amounts in arbitrary ways.
Before ruled unconstitutional the law capped non-economic damages at $500,000 or $1 million in cases of catastrophic harm. The specific case that the court was ruling on in determining the cap was not constitutional involved a woman who had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome in Broward County. Her esophagus was punctured by an anesthesia tube. She nearly died the next day, was in a coma for weeks, underwent extensive rehabilitation and still lives with trauma and pain. A jury awarded her several million dollars, but the amount was reduced because of the cap.
Medical Malpractice Cases in Florida
The state of Florida has seen a number of high-profile and high-damages cases over the years. All have been hard fought and won by experienced medical malpractice lawyers in the state. In one case a woman was awarded $23 million from her doctor and a medical center after not being given appropriate care for preeclampsia during her pregnancy. Although she was tested for it, and the results indicated preeclampsia, she was not treated properly and her baby was born prematurely as a result and with serious and permanent brain damage.
One important case went all the way to the state supreme court and helped ensure that privacy rights for patients exist even after they have died. The case involved a malpractice suit that a woman filed against a doctor who treated her now-deceased husband. The defendant’s lawyers wanted to privately interview the deceased man’s prior healthcare providers. His widow insisted that this violated his privacy rights, and the Florida Supreme Court agreed.
This was a case in which a malpractice lawyer was helping a victim get justice and ended up changing malpractice law to benefit all state residents. It changed a recent addition to malpractice law in the state that allowed defendants’ lawyers to interview doctors of the plaintiff, initially with the plaintiff’s lawyer present, but after a couple of weeks, alone and in private.
Working with a Florida Medical Malpractice Case
The laws in Florida that govern malpractice cases are complicated and can make filing a suit daunting for anyone who is not an expert in them. The laws keep changing too, which makes it even more complex and challenging. Victims of negligence need to find experienced and dedicated malpractice lawyers and legal teams to help them make their cases and navigate all the laws that can limit getting justice for those who are not experts.
Working with a good malpractice lawyer is so important and so is finding the right one. The state bar association is a good place to start and can help you find a lawyer who is licensed and also has practical experience in malpractice. Make sure you find a lawyer who has that experience in both settlement agreements and trials for malpractice because you don’t know where your case will go once you file it.
Ultimately you need a lawyer to help you who has experience and practical qualifications, but who also makes you feel comfortable. Work with a lawyer who will readily ask your questions and who you believe has your best interests in mind and will fight tirelessly for your rights. When you have found this lawyer, you can feel confident going into your case that you have someone on your side to help you win the justice you deserve.