blood-pressure-1573037_1920No, this is not déjà vu. On June 8, 2017, the Supreme Court of Florida struck down another legislative mechanism to limit damages in personal injury cases. In North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan, the Supreme Court decided that non-economic damage caps on medical malpractice actions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution. Non-economic damages are non-pecuniary harms such as permanent disability, disfigurement, blindness, loss of a limb, paralysis, trauma, or physical pain and suffering. While shocking to some, this decision is not entirely surprising due to the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Estate of McCall v. United States that invalidated non-economic damage caps for wrongful death actions under equal protection.

In 2003, the Florida Legislature decided to address the medical malpractice insurance crisis in Florida by enacting Florida Statute 766.118, which limits the non-economic damages that could be awarded in personal injury matters arising from medical negligence.  According to legislative findings at that time, as cited in the McCall opinion, the increase in medical malpractice liability insurance premiums resulted in “physicians leaving Florida, retiring early from the practice of medicine, or refusing to perform high-risk procedures, thereby limiting the availability of health care.” To counter this crisis, Florida Statute 776.118(2) limits non-economic damages awards for medical negligence of practitioners to $500,000 per claimant except where the negligence resulted in a permanent vegetative state, death, or catastrophic injury and a manifest injustice would occur unless increased damages are awarded.  In that case, damages may be awarded in an amount up to $1 million. Section 766.118(3) limits damages to $750,000 and $1.5 million, respectively, when the injury results from the negligence of non-practitioners. By enacting theses caps, the Legislature anticipated that physicians’ medical malpractice insurance premiums would drop, physicians would remain in Florida, not opt for early retirement, the number of physicians practicing without insurance would decrease, and the number of physicians who refused to perform high-risk procedures would decrease.

While it was the Legislature’s position that this alleged crisis was said to be of an “unprecedented magnitude,” the Supreme Court in Kalitan determined that the Legislature’s findings were not supported by the available data. In fact, in the years since the cap’s implementation, the Court found that the intended effects have not manifested themselves.  Instead, physicians have chosen to remain in Florida, but still opt not to carry malpractice insurance; medical malpractice premiums are the same, if not slightly higher; and insurance income increased.

Even if the data were accurate, the Supreme Court declared that the statute nonetheless arbitrarily infringes upon the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the laws, because there is a lack of evidence supporting a direct correlation between non-economic damage caps and reduced malpractice premiums. Relying on its McCall decision, the Supreme Court explained that the damage caps have the effect of saving a minimal amount for many by imposing devastating costs on the most catastrophically injured, and those who sustain the greatest damage and loss. Doing so “offends the fundamental notion of
Continue Reading Florida Medical Malpractice Non-economic Damage Caps: Before and After Kalitan

Occupational Hearing Loss (OHL) is one of the most prevalent work-related illnesses in the United States with 22 million workers exposed to hazardous noise each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

With approximately $242 million spent annually on workers’ compensation claims for disabilities arising from hearing loss, this number is set to increase in light of a new favorable holding for Louisiana employers with industrial workplace settings.
hearingThe Louisiana Supreme Court held in Arrant et al v. Graphic Packaging International, Inc. et al that defendant Graphic Packaging, which owns and operates a paper mill, box plant, and carton plant in West Monroe, Louisiana, is immune from suits in tort brought by its employees for noise-induced hearing loss injuries sustained from working around industrial machinery. The Supreme Court held that these injuries fell within the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act (“LWCA”) definitions of a covered “personal injury by accident” or an “occupational disease.”

“Arrant is the symbolic shot heard round the world in Louisiana when it comes to noise induced hearing loss suits.”

The Court heard testimony from expert audiologists that when high levels of energy enter the cochlea of the ear “it damages and destroys that row of hair cells in that particular part of the ear.” There is an “immediate injury to the inner ear” though the effect only becomes gradually perceptible over time and only with repeated or continuous exposures to high levels of noise. As such, the Court held that traumatic injury to the inner ear qualified as a personal injury by accident under the LWCA.

The Court also found that “hazardous levels of industrial noise . . . was a condition very characteristic of and peculiar to the particular employment of working in a paper mill or box plant” and as such was an occupational disease under the LWCA.

Caution-Hearing-Protection-RequiredThe legal effect of Arrant is that suits against an employer for noise induced hearing loss injuries are now within the exclusive remedy provision of the LWCA. The practical effect of Arrant is that noise-induced hearing loss suits against employers are coming to an end. While technically the LWCA provides an exception for intentional acts, this is a difficult burden to meet. Were plaintiffs to amend their petition to assert an intentional tort against their employers, they would have to prove that the employers either desired that their employees sustain noise-induced hearing loss, or were substantially certain that such injuries were going to occur from their work around noise producing machinery inside their facilities.

Simply, Arrant is the symbolic ‘shot heard round the world’ in Louisiana when it comes to noise induced hearing loss suits.
Continue Reading Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Claims Against Employers Fall On Deaf Ears