Alabama Ahead of the Times in Protecting Victims of Medical Malpractice
Last October, a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge refused to apply the state’s cap on noneconomic (pain and suffering) damages in a case where a woman had to have all four limbs amputated due to an infection that went untreated, despite showing up at the emergency room with high fever and severe abdominal pain. The doctors’ lawyers wanted the judge to reduce the jury’s $16.5 million award to the state cap of $750,000, but the judge held that to do so would be unjust and was not rationally related to any of the state’s arguments for limiting medical malpractice damages.
The Florida Supreme Court reached the same conclusion last March, when it held that the state’s cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice wrongful death cases violated the Equal Protection clause of the Florida Constitution.
There seems to be a national trend brewing where courts take a closer look at state legislatures’ description of a “crisis” in health care and the need for “tort reform” to control health care costs for the public by limiting medical malpractice lawsuits. Alabama is decades ahead of this trend, however. Our state supreme court took care of this issue nearly 25 years ago.
Medical malpractice damage caps were first enacted in Alabama in 1987. That law, which is still on the books, limits an award of noneconomic damages to $400,000. However, only a few years later, in 1991, the Supreme Court of Alabama in Moore v. Mobile Infirmary Association held that the law violated state constitutional provisions protecting the rights to trial by jury and equal protection of the law. Like the Milwaukee and Florida courts, our high court questioned the reality of a “crisis” in health care. Whatever this crisis may be, trying to address it by limiting the power of juries to compensate the people with the most catastrophic injuries who need the money the most is unreasonable and unconstitutional, according to the court.
The Alabama legislature also passed another law in 1987 to limit damages in wrongful death cases to $1,000,000, but that law too was held unconstitutional by the Alabama Supreme Court in 1995 in the case of Smith v. Schulte.
Medical malpractice cases still remain some of the most complex cases to litigate. Achieving a successful verdict requires the help of knowledgeable and experienced attorneys with the resources to pursue a case to its conclusion and the skills to persuasively communicate complex medical facts and legal principles to a jury. In Mobile, the Law Office of J. Allan Brown fights to achieve appropriate compensation for persons severely injured by the negligence or incompetence of doctors and other healthcare professionals.