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Senate panel says yes to revamped malpractice cap

Senators said no to damage limits until Tuesday, when a committee voted yes on a $500,000 cap.

Published June 18, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - A Senate panel approved a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in most medical malpractice cases Tuesday, setting up the framework for a possible compromise with the House.

The Senate medical malpractice bill, which originally contained no cap, would limit pain-and-suffering awards to $500,000, but would allow victims of the worst malpractice to collect more. The caps would apply separately to doctors and hospitals, so the total could double.

Lawmakers are in town for a four-day special session to ease soaring medical malpractice insurance rates, which many doctors say are forcing them to leave the state, stop offering high-risk procedures or retire early.

The vote by the Senate Committee on Health, Aging and Long-Term Care was the first real movement in the medical malpractice impasse since debate began several months ago.

The Senate originally wanted no cap, while the House and Gov. Jeb Bush agreed with the Florida Medical Association on a $250,000 cap.

Bush said he might consider a higher cap.

"The lower the caps the more certainty there is that we can lower premiums, but there are other ways to deal with this issue as well so I won't pass judgment on any particular proposal that is a work in progress now," Bush said. "I do appreciate the Senate for being willing to work fresh on these issues."

Senate Rules Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said he was summoned to Bush's office Tuesday afternoon to discuss the issue.

"We're trying to figure out a way to bridge the gap between the governor's position and the Senate," Lee said.

"I'm doubtful there is a way, but the governor wants to encourage dialogue."

House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, said he hadn't heard about the Senate's latest proposal it but promised the House would take a look at it.

The measure the Senate committee approved wouldn't limit pain-and-suffering awards for certain catastrophic cases of malpractices, with results like death, paralysis, blindness or severe brain damage. Economic damages, such as lost wages or medical costs, also would not be capped.

The committee voted 8-3 to approve the bill, which is expected to reach the Senate floor today. The House continued to work on its bill in committee Tuesday.

- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

[Last modified June 18, 2003, 01:48:11]

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