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For years Florida physicians literally marched in the streets, at the urging of their professional associations, hospitals, health care companies, and their medical malpractice insurers, demanding that patients’ rights be curtailed and restricted and that the amount of damages awarded to medical malpractice victims be capped in order to reduce their malpractice insurance premiums. Well, four years ago, with the influence of patient advocates and trial attorneys at an all-time low, and after three special sessions on the issue, they were successful. Yes, the Florida Legislature capped “pain and suffering” awards by juries in medical malpractice cases.
The doctors got what they wanted and expected their insurance rates to decrease. But they didn’t. And the doctors are still complaining about price gouging by their insurance companies. So, the rights of patients were impaired and the damages to which they are entitled are capped, even if a jury says they deserve more than the cap amount.
Senator Durell Peaden of Crestview wanted to change that this year. Peaden, a doctor himself, introduced a bill this year that would have prevented malpractice insurers from basing their current rates on data from years before the caps took effect. The bill would have required the insurers to reduce their rates by 25% less than they were on October 1, 2004, the date the “damage caps” became effective.
Peaden’s bill went nowhere. So what was the 2004 fight all about? Reducing doctors’ insurance, or just taking away patients’ rights?