Whenever a patient is seriously injured as a result of medical malpractice, no amount of money can take the place of his or her health and well-being. However, s medical malpractice cases can have other benefits, such as bringing justice to the patients and family members who have been affected by negligent medical treatment.
One Florida woman may finally receive the justice she has hoped for. Her husband was injured in 2003 when an emergency room doctor at a Palm Beach County hospital failed to give him a critical anti-clotting drug for a heart attack. The lack of proper medication caused irrevocable damage his heart, and he later died.
The wife was awarded more than $10 million for medical malpractice. The award was appealed, however, because Florida passed a cap on medical malpractice damages later that year, limiting them to $1 million. The woman's case was not filed until two years later.
The woman's attorney argued that the damage cap should not apply because the actual medical malpractice had taken place before the cap was passed. The defendants pointed out that the Florida legislature had made the cap retroactive. In 2009, an appeals court agreed and upheld the award, stating that "it is...well settled that retrospective laws are generally unjust."
The question was put to the Florida Supreme Court in a similar case, and the court has just issued its ruling upholding the awards and also stating that retrospective laws are generally unacceptable. Although the Supreme Court ruling did not involve the same case, it should serve as precedent for cases with similar facts.
In this case, the wife may not actually receive the full $10.3 million of the damage award, because the doctor had a $1 million limit on his insurance policy. Her attorney is expected to file a claim against the insurer for failing to settle out of court knowing that the insurance was limited.
Source: The Palm Beach Post, "Supreme Court lets stand $10.3 million award in Palm Beach County medical malpractice case," Jane Musgrave, Nov. 9, 2011