In a landmark decision, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal (“Fourth DCA”) in North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan held that caps on non-economic damages in personal injury medical malpractice cases violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.
The Plaintiff, Susan Kalitan, suffered serious injury due to medical negligence when she went in for a carpal tunnel surgery that required anesthesia. The Defendant/anesthesiologist punctured a hole in her esophagus while performing intubation. When Ms. Kalitan awoke after surgery, she complained of excruciating pain in her chest and back but the anesthesiologist failed to detect the problem. She was released from the hospital, but the next day Ms. Kalitan’s neighbor found her at home unresponsive. She was rushed back to the hospital for life-saving surgery. Ms. Kalitan spent several weeks in a drug-induced coma before having additional surgeries and intensive therapy to begin eating again and regain mobility. She presently suffers from pain in the upper half of her body and serious mental disorders as a result of this traumatic incident and loss of independence due to physical limitations.
At trial, the jury awarded Ms. Kalitan $4 million in non-economic damages, but that figure was reduced by the trial court post-verdict to $2 million under the non-economic damages caps found in Fla. Stat. 766.118. The trial court denied the Plaintiff’s arguments that the caps were unconstitutional violations of the Equal Protection Clause, her right to access the courts and her right to trial by jury.
Ms. Kalitan appealed the reduction of her jury-awarded damages to the Fourth DCA where she was victorious. Judge Forst delivered the opinion for the appellate court, wherein he carefully followed the Florida Supreme Court’s rationale in Estate of McCall v. United States, 134 So. 3d 894 (Fla. 2014). In Estate of McCall, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that caps on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases violated Florida’s Equal Protection Clause as, “the greater the number of survivors and the more devastating their losses are, the less likely they are to be fully compensated for those loses”, particularly in comparison to cases where there was only one survivor.