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How Could Potential Changes to Florida's Personal Injury Laws Affect Your Case?

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If you've recently suffered a debilitating injury due to someone else's negligent or reckless behavior, you may be evaluating all the options available—including filing a personal injury lawsuit to recoup medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages attributable to your accident. Personal injury matters can be big business for many law firms, making it easier to find an attorney to take your case on a contingency basis than for other types of cases—however, a couple of potential changes to personal injury law in Florida could change not only the manner in which you proceed, but the monetary damages available if your personal injury claim is successful. Read on to learn more about how a set of cases pending in the Florida Supreme Court could affect how personal injury cases are litigated in the Sunshine State. 

What upcoming cases may affect Florida personal injury law? 

The Florida Supreme Court is set to consider several important cases involving medical malpractice and personal injury litigation. In North Broward Hospital v. Kalitan, the Florida Supreme Court will review an appellate decision extending the exemption of the $500,000 cap on non-economic damages to not only medical malpractice cases, but personal injury cases as well. The practical effect of this $500,000 cap is to prevent awards for non-economic damages (like pain and suffering or emotional distress) in most tort cases from exceeding this amount, thereby lowering liability insurance costs for employers and making the state more business friendly.

A 2003 state law eliminated this cap in medical malpractice cases, allowing individuals who were injured due to the negligence of a doctor or hospital to collect more than $500,000 in pain and suffering damages for egregious malpractice. A court decision then extended this exemption to apply to personal injury cases as well, severely curtailing the effect of the legislative cap (as malpractice and personal injury cases comprise the majority of high-dollar-value tort claims). 

Another case pending before the Florida Supreme Court affects how personal injury lawyers can be paid. In Searcy, Denny, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley v. State, a law firm plans to argue against the constitutionality of a state law permitting public entities to direct how much of a personal injury or malpractice claim can be paid out in attorney's fees. Because the total amount a public entity is required to pay out to a prevailing plaintiff in a personal injury matter is capped at $200,000, these public entities can place provisions in the claim documents that limit the amount that the counsel for the plaintiff may deduct as legal fees. The law firm plans to argue that this type of practice is an unconstitutional intrusion on the contract between the plaintiff and law firm. 

How may the outcomes of these cases affect your own litigation?

Unless you're suing a public hospital, school, or other public entity, it's unlikely the outcome of Searcy v. State will directly affect your personal injury case. However, if you are required to sue under the state claims act, you'll be limited in both the amount you can recover ($200,000) and potentially limited in how much you can pay your attorney. If the law firm's constitutionality argument fails, it may be more difficult to find representation for complex cases due to the low potential judgment.

The outcome of the Kalitan case could have a direct effect on your judgment award. Unless your matter has already proceeded to trial, it's likely that the Florida Supreme Court's decision will be binding on your case, potentially limiting you to no more than $500,000 in pain and suffering or emotional distress damages if the court declines to extend the exemption to personal injury cases. On the other hand, if Kalitan's argument is successful, you may be able to recover far more than would have been available only a few years before.

For additional information on this topic, speak with a personal injury attorney in the Florida area.