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The Assault on Caps on Non-Economic Damages for Medical Malpractice Cases Continues

July 1, 2014 By Mark A. Kohl

In Estate of McCall v. United States, Florida’s Supreme Court held that the state’s cap on non-economic damages for medical malpractice cases violated the Equal Protection Clause of Florida’s Constitution. The Florida Court relied on two arguments: that the cap created an unconstitutional distinction based on the extent of a claimant’s injury and that there was insufficient evidence that Florida ever suffered from a medical malpractice insurance crisis (the stated justification for the cap).

With this ruling Florida’s highest appellate court became the eighth such bench to strike down statutorily imposed caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases (the others are Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington).

Although the constitutional language is different, Maryland and Florida analyze equal protection challenges similarly – unless a suspect classification is involved, statutes are analyzed to determine whether a rational basis exists for any classifications they create.

Maryland’s highest court has not yet fielded an equal protection challenge to its medical malpractice cap. However, the Court of Appeals has repeatedly rejected constitutional challenges to the wrongful death and personal injury caps (including a decision as recently as 2010). For example, in Murphy v. Edmonds (a 1992 decision) the Court of Appeals rejected an equal protection challenge to the cap on non-economic damages and specifically noted that the cap did not unfairly discriminate against those who were severely injured and that the stated rational for the cap (a liability insurance “crisis”) justified the distinction.

It is unlikely that the Florida decision will guide Maryland’s Court of Appeals unless it reaches a different conclusion regarding the basis for a cap on medical malpractice claims than other tort claims.