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Fla. Acts to Cap Medical Damage Suits

August 14, 2003|From Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Legislature on Wednesday approved a bill that limits damages medical malpractice plaintiffs can receive, a move aimed at lowering insurance rates and helping the state retain doctors.

Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to sign the bill, which Republican legislative leaders agreed to last week after months of fighting over how to set caps on noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering.

"I'm confident there will be a reduction in insurance premiums," Bush said. The measure limits a doctor's liability for noneconomic damages in most medical malpractice cases to $500,000. A medical facility's liability would be limited to $750,000 in most cases.

Multiple plaintiffs -- such as a victim, a spouse and their children -- could file multiple lawsuits against the doctor and the facility, but no group of plaintiffs could win more than $2.5 million. Economic damages, such as for medical care or lost wages, wouldn't be capped.

But people on both sides of the debate have already criticized the measure. Doctors have said they do not support it and insurance companies say it likely won't lower rates.

Sandy Mortham, chief executive of the Florida Medical Assn., said physicians wanted a $250,000 hard cap with no variations.

Malpractice victims say limits on damage payouts make it less likely that lawyers will take cases, meaning access to justice could be denied.

The bill reflects compromises by lawmakers following two failed special sessions on the malpractice insurance issue.

Bush had said campaign donors shouldn't give to Republicans who weren't on the right side of the debate.

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