Sunday, June 24, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Fairness in malpractice awards restored

A small measure of justice was restored this week when the Florida Supreme Court found unconstitutional the centerpiece of a decade-old state law, saying it discriminates against the surviving relatives of medical malpractice victims based solely on how many there are. The ruling comes too late for families who already have been shortchanged. But it sends a clear message to the Florida Legislature that it cannot allow powerful political forces to trump fundamental fairness for individuals.

In a 5-2 opinion, the justices ruled Thursday that Florida's controversial 2003 medical malpractice reform violated survivors' equal protection rights because hard caps on noneconomic damages were limited to no more than $1 million in the event of a death or permanent vegetative state — regardless of the number of practitioners or survivors.

The practical effect of the law: Individual family members' share of damages was limited not by the actual pain and suffering they endured, but by how many other relatives were also entitled to part of the $1 million in noneconomic damages. What's more, when multiple parties were found at fault, their burden was lessened regardless of the severity of their malpractice simply because there were more parties to contribute toward the $1 million in damages. "We hold that to reduce damages in this fashion is not only arbitrary, but irrational, and we conclude that it 'offends the fundamental notion of equal justice under the law,' " Justice R. Fred Lewis wrote in the majority opinion.

The ruling is expected to also impact a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages for lesser injuries. The Florida Justice Association estimates there are more than 700 medical malpractice suits pending statewide.

The bigger outrage for survivors whose noneconomic damages were capped in the last decade is that lawmakers and then-Gov. Jeb Bush were repeatedly warned this could happen. In several 2003 bill analyses written over multiple legislative sessions, the legislative staff warned that the bill "may implicate equal protection concerns under the Florida Constitution."

But constitutional concerns rarely get in the way when special interest legislation is at stake. Hospitals were seeking to limit their liability and doctors wanted lower insurance premiums. On the other side was the Trial Bar, long a nemesis of the Republican-controlled Legislature, which argued that caps would not hold doctors or their insurance companies to account. In the end, Lewis wrote, it's not even clear doctors got rate relief due to the law's caveats that allowed insurance companies to keep raising rates.

At least now survivors of the victims of medical malpractice have a fairer chance of receiving the pain and suffering damages they are reasonably due, not just an amount artificially set by the number of survivors.

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Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

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Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18

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Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

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Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

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Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

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Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
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