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Florida Appellate Court Upholds Damages Cap in Medical Negligence Cases

October 19, 2010
Bonnie Navin

On October 13, 2010, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals, in Deno v. Lifemark Hospital of Florida, No. 3D09-984 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010), upheld the ruling of an arbitration panel, holding that the relevant statutory cap on non-economic damages in medical negligence cases allows victims to receive up to $250,000 per claimant, but not per defendant.

The issue arose out of a lawsuit in which the estate and survivors of William S. Deno sued a hospital and an individual doctor, claiming that medical negligence in performing a heart procedure had resulted in Deno’s death. The two defendants separately agreed to voluntary arbitration, as did the estate. Thereafter, the arbitration proceedings against the hospital and physician were consolidated into one.

The arbitration panel awarded each claimant $250,000, determining that this conclusion was consistent with the statutory cap limiting non-economic damages to $250,000 per incident. The estate appealed, arguing that the statutory limit should be interpreted to allow for $250,000 per claimant per defendant.

In affirming the decision of the arbitration panel, the Third DCA held that the panel’s decision was consistent with the statute and statutory scheme. The Court explained that the statutory interpretation proposed by the estate was “inconsistent with the idea of a uniform cap,” as the amount of non-economic damages would fluctuate depending on the number of defendants in a case.

Florida lawyers have expressed their disappointment in the ruling. They warn that plaintiffs no longer have any incentive to opt for arbitration, particularly in cases involving multiple defendants.