On December 18, 2019, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal in Poole, M.D. v. DeFranko, 2019 WL 6884501 (Dec. 18, 2019), affirmed the constitutionality of the noneconomic damage limitations set forth in the medical malpractice arbitration statutes—Fla. Stat. §§ 766.207 and 766.209. In those sections, the Florida Legislature limited the damages in medical malpractice cases where a presuit offer to arbitration is either accepted or rejected.
Under Fla. Stat. § 766.207, if arbitration is accepted, then there are limits set on the amount of damages that can be awarded to the claimant. For example, only 80% of wage loss and loss of earning, minus any collateral source payments; and punitive damages cannot be awarded. The more controversial limitation is the noneconomic damage limitation. If an offer to arbitrate is accepted, then noneconomic damages are limited to $250,000 per claimant and is calculated on a percentage basis with respect to capacity to enjoy life, so that a finding that he claimant’s injuries resulted in a 50-percent reduction in his or her capacity to enjoy life the ward would not be more than $125,000.
However, a party cannot be forced to accept an offer to arbitrate. If the defendant rejects a claimant’s offer to arbitrate, then the noneconomic damages are subject to the limitations set forth in Fla. Stat. § 766.118. If the claimant rejects an offer to arbitrate, then noneconomic damages are limited to $350,000 per claimant.
In Poole, M.D., the Court reversed the trial court’s finding Fla. Stat. §§ 766.207 and 766.209 violated the Equal Protections Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Court started off by recognizing the presumption of constitutionality when reviewing a constitutional provision. It went on to cite the Florida Supreme Court’s finding of constitutionality of the arbitration provisions of Chapter 766 in University of Miami v. Echarte in 1993 and the Third District Court of Appeal’s re-affirmance of it in 2016 in Alvarez v. Lifemark Hospitals of Florida, Inc. Like the Courts before it, the Third District Court of Appeal re-affirmed the constitutionality of the damage limitations set forth in those sections.
Understanding the benefits and risks of arbitration are important in handling medical malpractice claims. The attorneys at Andrews, Crabtree, Knox & Longfellow are knowledgeable in these benefits and risks and are prepared to answer questions.