(updates article posted on October 31, 2013)

 In Miles v. Weingrad, No. SC13-54, the Florida Supreme Court held that the medical malpractice cap on non-economic damages found in Chapter 766, Florida Statutes cannot be applied retroactively.  To read the opinion, please click here.

With respect to the underlying facts, Kimberly Ann Miles sought a second medical opinion from the defendant, Dr. Daniel Weingrad, after undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her leg.  Dr. Weingrad recommended another surgery to ensure that the cancer had been excised. On January 31, 2003, Dr. Weingrad performed the surgery, but Miles experienced complications after the surgery and, ultimately, limited mobility.  Miles and her husband then sued Dr. Weingrad for her permanent injuries.

After a trial, the jury awarded plaintiffs $1.5 million in noneconomic damages:  $1.45 million for the patient’s pain and suffering and $50,000 for her husband’s consortium claim.  The trial court denied Dr. Weingrad’s motion to reduce the non-economic award to the statutory cap of $500,000.

On appeal, the Third District reversed the trial court’s judgment and the jury award of noneconomic damages.  See Weingrad v Miles, 29 So. 3d 406 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010).  First, the district court found that the statute at issue was substantive in nature and that the legislature expressed clear legislative intent for retroactive application.  On the third prong of the analysis—whether the plaintiff had vested right that was impaired—the district court found that they “had at most a ‘mere expectation’ or a prospect that they might recover damages of an indeterminate amount at an unspecified date in the future.”  The court based this conclusion on the fact that plaintiffs did not file their notice of intent or their complaint or obtain a judgment before the enactment of the statute.

On May 21, 2015, the Florida Supreme Court quashed the Third District’s retroactive application of the cap on noneconomic damages found in section 766.118, Florida Statutes.  The Florida Supreme Court clarified its precedent in regards to whether the retroactive application of section 766.118(2), Florida Statutes is constitutional. The Court stated that one has a vested right in the common law when a cause of action has accrued. Specifically in medical malpractice cases, the Court stated, a cause of action accrues at the time the malpractice incident occurs. Therefore, the Court concluded, because the plaintiff’s injury occurred in 2003, prior to the effective date of the amendment to section 766.118, Miles had a vested right that could not be infringed upon by retroactive application of the statute.

Justices Canady and Polston dissented based on jurisdictional grounds.  They did not believe that the decision accepted for review expressly and directly conflicts with Raphael v. Shecter, 18 So. 3d 1152 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009).

Given the Court’s decision last year in Estate of McCall v. United States, 134 So. 3d 894 (Fla. Mar. 13, 2014) (No. SC11-1148), the impact of this decision is not far-reaching.  In that case, the Court held that the med mal cap for noneconomic damages in section 766.118, Florida Statutes, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.  To read that decision, please click here.

Image Courtesy of Flickr by Medical Office Careers (no changes).