Under pending GOP proposals before the Florida legislature designed to
help Florida doctors avoid malpractice lawsuits, the most a Medicaid recipient
or his or her family could receive would be $200,000.
Since 2003, when lawmakers capped damages for pain and suffering at $500,000,
many lawyers say they have drastically cut their medical malpractice caseloads.
Cutting that cap further to $200,000, which is presently proposed, would
make it financially impractical for lawyers to take on cases that often
cost them $250,000 to get ready for trial.
Lawyers say the existing cap has created huge inequities. With no chance
of multimillion dollar awards for pain and suffering, one of the biggest
claims in malpractice cases is loss of earning power. That would mean
that retirees and babies, both jobless, have little value in the eyes
of the courts.
Among other measures being proposed to rein in malpractice lawsuits in
Florida is one which would make hospitals immune from suits or mistakes
by contract employees, such as anesthesiologists and radioligists. Another
would make it harder to sue doctors for not ordering a test, and still
another would require experts in malpracticwe cases to register with the State.
Doctors believe patients should be fairly compensated for mistakes, but
that it shouldn't be a windfall, according to Dr. Maureen Whelihan,
According to lawyers, however, when a doctor is successfully sued for
cutting off the wrong leg of a Medicaid patient, he reimburses the state
for what it paid for the botched surgery. As a result, lawyers contribute
millions to the state.
Lawyers believe that profit-minded insurance companies are responsible
for the high malpractice rates in Florida and other states, not lawsuits.
As a last resort, according to the lawyers interviewed, they will sue.