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Jeb Bush Signs Florida Malpractice Bill

The new law aims to lower medical insurance costs. Trial lawyers say they will fight limits on some lawsuit damages.

August 15, 2003|From Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday signed a bill aimed at reducing medical malpractice insurance costs as trial lawyers vowed to challenge a provision that caps some lawsuit damages.

The bill signing ended a months-long dispute among Florida Republicans over what Bush called his top priority -- lowering malpractice insurance costs to keep doctors from limiting or closing their practices.

The issue, however, is far from resolved. The first suit over a serious medical mistake after the law takes effect Sept. 15 is sure to trigger a challenge to the law, said Neal Roth, a malpractice attorney who has been one of the trial bar's chief lobbyists working against caps.

"I believe that if the courts of this state simply follow existing law on the subject, it will be overturned," Roth said.

Bush said he thinks the law will hold up.

"We wouldn't have advocated and negotiated it if we didn't think it was constitutional, because clearly we want it to work," Bush said before signing the bill.

The new law limits a doctor's liability for noneconomic damages -- such as pain and suffering -- to $500,000 in most medical malpractice cases. A medical facility's liability will be limited to $750,000 in most cases.

Multiple victims -- such as a victim, a spouse and their children -- will be able to receive more money with multiple lawsuits, but no group of victims could win more than $2.5 million.

Economic damages, such as for lost wages or medical care, would not be capped.

Roth compared the new law to one that was ruled unconstitutional in 1987. That law would have capped noneconomic damages in any personal injury or wrongful death case at $450,000.

Rep. J. Dudley Goodlette, who helped negotiate an agreement on the malpractice issue, said the new law is more narrowly focused and allows for larger awards than the one that was ruled unconstitutional.

"It will hold up," said Goodlette, a Republican. "I think we've struck a good balance" between access to health care and access to the courts, he said.

Florida is just one battlefield in a nationwide war over how much should be paid for doctors' mistakes.

The U.S. Senate killed a bill that would have set a $250,000 cap on some types of damages claimed by malpractice victims. President Bush, the governor's brother, had sought the limits.

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