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Florida Considering Further Restrictions on Medical Malpractice Awards

Florida is considering further limitations on medical malpractice awards. According to the Gulf Coast Business Review, Florida's House Appropriations Committee approved a new bill that would limit medical malpractice awards for pain and suffering to $300,000 in cases brought by Medicaid patients. The $300,000 cap applies to cases with more than one defendant. The proposed law further provides that no single health care provider can be found liable for more than $200,000 for pain and suffering. A similar bill is now pending in the Florida Senate. Florida law presently limits malpractice pain and suffering awards to $500,000.

Overhauling Florida's Medicaid System

The proposed legislation is part of Florida's attempt to overhaul its Medicaid system. Medicaid is a joint federal/state program that provides health care for people with low incomes and resources. One of the biggest problems with the program is that it suffers from a shortage of doctors willing to treat Medicaid patients. Although Medicaid's low payment rates to doctors have been blamed for the shortage, lawmakers do not appear to be considering a rate increase. Instead they hope that shielding doctors from lawsuits brought by Medicaid patients will attract more physicians to the program. The malpractice caps were hotly debated by the House Appropriations Committee, which approved the measure by votes of 12-8 and 15-8. Both votes were along party lines, with Republicans supporting the bills and Democrats in opposition. The bill will go to the full House for further consideration. The legislation is not the only pending bill in Florida regarding malpractice caps.

The Florida legislature is also expected to decide upon a bill to limit awards where a person dies while in the care of a nursing home. This bill proposes a $250,000 cap on medical malpractice awards for noneconomic losses, which include pain and suffering. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the bill does not limit economic damages, such as medical bills, funeral costs, and other items that can be proven with specificity. A state senator also noted that plaintiffs' ability to recover punitive damages from nursing homes would not be limited by the proposed measure. The bill is expected to be decided before the Florida Legislature adjourns on May 6.