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New Florida Law Limits Damages in Claims of Medical Malpractice

February 06, 1988|Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Bob Martinez says he will sign new medical malpractice legislation into law Monday, putting a lid on soaring insurance premiums in Florida by limiting the legal rights of injured patients.

The Legislature passed the measure late Thursday, the last day of a three-day special session, after years of argument among the insurance, legal and medical professions about insurance costs and their effect on health care.

The high costs and fear of lawsuits prompted doctors in some specialties and South Florida emergency rooms and trauma centers to curtail services and refuse to take new patients.

Creates Arbitration System

The bill sets up a compensation plan for babies brain-damaged at birth, provisions to give the state more authority to crack down on doctors who commit repeated malpractice and a voluntary but binding arbitration system designed to keep malpractice claims out of the courts.

Under the plan, there would be a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages in malpractice cases if both parties submitted the claim to arbitration. A $350,000 cap would be set if the defendant refused arbitration and a trial were held, and there would be no cap if both parties sought a trial. The limits do not apply to real damages, such as medical bills and lost wages.

The measure also includes provisions that would give doctors limited immunity when treating cases in emergency rooms and trauma centers. Patients would have to prove their physicians acted with reckless disregard to their health in order to collect damages.

The overall bill is effective upon the governor's signature .

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