On Oct. 26, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal, headquartered in Lakeland, joined the Fourth District Court to reject the state’s capping of noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, finding the law to be unconstitutional. This ruling has the potential to change the lives of families in Lakeland who have suffered from a medical error in ways that go beyond lost wages and medical bills, such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, paralysis, and more.
The Case That Changed Everything
This ruling came about as a result of a case called Suarez v. Port Charlotte HMA LLC. Iala Suarez sued Peace River Medical Center and its staff claiming negligent treatment in response to her early onset preeclampsia, resulting in her daughter being born with severe neurological impairments that will make her fully dependent for the rest of her life.
Florida’s Second District appeals court used the Fourth District’s ruling on a previous medical malpractice case in 2015 as a precedent to make their decision to reverse a trial court’s final judgement on the Suarez case. The Second District Court ordered an increase in the multimillion-dollar damages awarded to Suarez and her daughter.
These damages include $13.55 million in total damages, including $1.25 million in noneconomic damages awarded to the child, and $9.6 million in total damages, including $4 million in noneconomic damages, awarded to Suarez.
But how does this court rejection of capped noneconomic damages impact families in Lakeland who are dealing with medical malpractice suits?
The Difference Between Economic and Noneconomic Damages
The type of damages awarded after a successful medical malpractice lawsuit take two forms: economic and noneconomic. Economic damages are designed to compensate for past and future earning losses, medical expenses, and other losses and expenses that are fiscal in nature.
Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, are compensation for non-financial harm and losses resulting from a medical error, such as permanent disability, disfigurement, loss of a limb, paralysis, mental anguish, and physical pain and suffering. These type of damages typically come with a strict cap.
For individuals who do not work or earn a low salary, such as children, the elderly, and stay-at-home parents, the cap on noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice suit can be devastating, as their economic damages are lower compared to their high-earning counterparts. And for those who do earn a good salary and receive economic damages, they still may not cover the pain and suffering and anguish that come from a medical error.
Medical Errors Can Be Devastating for Families
Most people understand the physical toll of medical errors, but what is the emotional toll on victims and their families?
For the victims who survive their medical error, symptoms of trauma such as headaches, sleeplessness, depression, and anger are all too common, according to an article by ProPublica that interviewed Dr. Gerald Monk, a professor at San Diego State University who specializes in the aftermath of patient harm following medical errors.
“The harmed patient can become frozen with unprocessed emotional trauma following the harm they suffered. They can become stuck in emotional distress and psychological fragility,” explained Dr. Monk.
Victims who suffer from disfigurement, loss of limbs, and other physical injuries following a medical error can also feel a loss of their self-worth.
“Physical prowess and attractiveness can be an important part of how people define themselves. Day-to-day physical injuries and impairments caused by a medical error remind victims of what they no longer have in strength, mobility, being pain-free and physical appearance,” Dr. Monk told ProPublica.
The family members of loved ones who are victims to a medical error often feel an overwhelming sense of guilt after the error occurs. The family of a man with sickle cell anemia repeatedly warned health care workers not to administer morphine, but somehow it happened, sending the man into kidney failure and a coma, according an article by The New York Times.
“The feeling was impotence, because you can’t stay with a patient 24 hours a day,’’ the victim’s sister told the Times. “That’s why you rely on hospitals — you rely on nurses. You feel like you failed your family in terms of ‘I should have been there.’ That’s a guilt that everyone shares.”
Clearly, the emotional scars that come with a medical error can be carried by the victim and family for years after the incident. This ruling by the Florida’s Second District appeals court in Lakeland might provide families in the area with more options during a medical malpractice suit, proving that a traumatizing medical error can cause far more harm to families than medical bills and loss of income.
Have You Been Hurt by a Medical Error?
If you or someone you love has been physically or emotionally harmed after a medical error, you don’t have to stand for it. Read more to learn how our medical malpractice lawyers will fight to prove negligence on the part of your healthcare provider and try to recover compensation, including noneconomic damages, for your losses. If you are ready to pursue a claim, fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form today.