Florida Supreme Court Overturns Malpractice Damage Awards Cap
By Matt Gracey
The Florida Supreme Court’s recent overturn of the caps on non-economic damage awards in medical malpractice cases is the final nail in the coffin of tort reforms enacted in 2003. The frequency of lawsuits against doctors and correspondently the premiums for malpractice insurance in Florida since 2003 have dropped on average about 65% and the market has become healthy with many insurers competing for doctors’ business. As the premiums have steadily dropped over the last decade and a half many insurers’ loss ratios have now increased up to and in many cases over the 100% combined loss ratio mark so most insurers have been needing rate increases to stop mounting losses or thin profit margins. This court action will hasten the anticipated hardening of the marketplace and doctors are sure to see higher prices for their coverage and fewer insurers bidding on their malpractice insurance in the near future.
Five Steps I Recommend to Florida Doctors Now:
- Review your insurance coverage and determine if your insurer is financially secure enough to last through some years of deteriorating financial results. I predict many of the A.M. Best unrated insurers and small risk retention groups (RRGs) will fail in the next five years or be forced to sell to the larger insurers. For those insured with captives and assessable RRGs I recommend you seriously now consider switching coverage to the more financially stable carriers.
- Consider increasing your policy limits of liability since there are now no limits on non-economic damages that can be awarded in Florida.
- Get serious about risk management, it works! Many insurers offer for free very comprehensive in-office assessments and a wide array of best practice recommendations, as well as astute articles on cutting edge ways to reduce your risk of being sued.
- Polish your communication skills! Poor skills lead to unhappy patients and lawsuits. Remember that patients do not care how much you know until they know how much you care, as Sir William Osler so wisely said.
- Review and update your asset protection now, not after you have been sued.
More plaintiff lawyers are now turning their focus back to medical malpractice cases and our legislators in Tallahassee and Washington seem incapable of helping our doctors in any meaningful way on being sued less, so finding the way you can reduce risk in your own practice is the smartest move.