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Florida Cap on Non-Economic Damages Cannot Be Retroactively Applied, Miles v. Weingrad, 164 So. 3d 1208 (Fla. 2015)

Our experienced personal injury lawyers have found the issue of damages can be one of the most contentious parts of an injury lawsuit. Generally speaking, damages is the amount of money that a plaintiff is entitled to from a defendant to compensate adequately for injuries. Damages can take the form of economic damages or non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to the actual amount of money that a person is entitled to due to losses from an accident. This value is calculated based on bills incurred or records of payments and include medical fees, lost wages, fees to repair property, etc. On the other hand, non-economic damages are losses that have no inherent, concrete dollar amount. Courts do not usually calculate non-economic damages from hard bills or records that assign a specific number and, therefore, are harder to ascertain. These include damages for pain and suffering, emotional suffering or anguish, or loss of consortium with family members.

Some states have recently passed legislation to limit the amount that courts can award for non-economic damages, including Florida. The issue of legislative caps is what the court faced in Miles v. Weingrad. In Miles, the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice suit against the defendant, her doctor. The plaintiff had surgery to remove a malignant tumor from her leg and asked the defendant for a second opinion. The defendant recommended a second surgery, which he eventually performed, for the purpose of ensuring that cancer was, in fact, removed. However, the plaintiff experienced many complications after surgery and experienced limited mobility.

The case went to trial where a jury awarded the plaintiff $1.5 million for non-economic damages, largely pain and suffering. The defendant appealed the award and asked the court to reduce the amount of the damages to $500,000 because Florida had enacted a cap that limited non-economic damages to that amount. The appeals court agreed and, on remand, the trial court reduced the amount of the award. The plaintiff appealed, and the Florida Supreme Court decided the issue of whether the statutory cap may be retroactively applied.

The Florida Supreme Court held that the cause of action in a medical malpractice action accrues at the time that the incident of malpractice occurred. In this case, the surgery that is the basis of the malpractice suit occurred over seven months before the Florida legislature enacted the cap on damages.  A substantive statute will apply retroactively without a clear expression of legislative intent. Even where such an expression is present, a court may refuse a retroactive application if it impairs rights that have already vested, creates brand new obligations, or imposes new penalties. Therefore, the Court reversed the previous decisions and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to reinstate the original $1.5 million non-economic damage award. This case illustrates the complexity of the issue of damages, and the necessity of careful analysis to ensure that the court awards proper compensation.

If you or a family member have been the victims of medical malpractice, the Miami Personal Injury Lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire.  With over 130 collective years of experience representing personal injury clients across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence.  Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights.  Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald.   Put our exceptional personal injury attorneys to work on your case.  Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

 

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