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Will Florida medical malpractice case set a precedent?

When you think about pregnancy and child birth, you usually think about the end result -- having a beautiful, healthy baby. But for a Florida woman, her dream of having a child ended when she died of serious complications after giving birth.

The 20-year-old woman was set to give birth to a baby boy in February 2006. She came into the hospital suffering from preeclampsia, a serious condition that sometimes develops during pregnancy, only to die several days later from complications related to severe bleeding. Her family is suing for medical malpractice six years after the fact and the case is now becoming a landmark legal fight in Florida's medical malpractice system.

At issue with this case is challenging the economic damages that are awarded in malpractice cases. For this family, a federal judge had agreed with the family that the victim did not receive proper care and that the survivors should receive $2 million in non-economic damages, but because state law limits these types of damages, the award was reduced to $1 million.

Many feel that the caps imposed for medical malpractice lawsuits are unconstitutional. In 2003, the governor along with doctors, hospitals and insurers pushed for major changes in the malpractice system, including a $250,000 limit on non-economic damages. This group felt that medical malpractice suits were causing insurance costs to increase, doctors to practice elsewhere or to stop providing high-risk services. The ongoing negotiations at this time ended with a compromised bill that included limits of $500,000 or $1 million depending on the circumstances of the case and the number of people involved.

Now this case is being carefully watched by everyone because it could set a precedent for future medical malpractice cases. Both sides have valid arguments on the issue and the decision in this case will impact the health care delivery system in Florida.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Court case tests state's cap on med-mal damages," Jim Saunders, Feb. 8, 2012

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