Last month, the Florida Supreme Court looked back more than 10 years to strike down a key component of the 2003 medical malpractice law. It was a 5-2 ruling written by Justice R. Fred Lewis. While the case itself surrounds a major controversial issue in the legal community, the Justice’s critique of the legislative body that passed the law is also drawing attention.
Back in 2003, the law was passed as a culmination of a debate that lasted months. Then Governor Jeb Bush took the side of doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies who complained that medical malpractice costs in Florida were growing out of control, sending good doctors to other states or away from the type of high-risk work that led to the suits. The state government eventually settled on caps that would keep pain and suffering payments at $500,000 or $1 million, depending upon a variety of circumstances.
Three years later, a 20-year-old Florida woman named Michelle McCall bled to death after undergoing a caesarian section during childbirth. Her family sued the federal government (she was treated by U.S. Air Force medical staff) and was awarded $2 million in non-economic damages. However, the medical malpractice law lowered the award to $1 million. McCall’s family fought the ruling in appeals court.