Florida Medical Malpractice Insurance Primer

Malpractice Insurance Basics

  • Fifth largest market medical malpractice market in the country.
  • 23 providers comprise 80% of the market.
  • 97 total providers of medical professional liability insurance in the state.
  • Approximately 50,000 total physicians in the state.
  • Total claims closed in 2010: 2,520.

Florida is the fifth largest market for medical malpractice insurance by direct written premium, totaling $550,211,219. There are 22 carriers that make up 80% of this total written premium in Florida. This is up from 17 medical malpractice insurance carriers in 2007 and 15 carriers in 2005. Premiums for Florida medical malpractice insurance decreased on an average 8% from 2008 to 2009. Based on the return of surplus for the leading carriers, Florida has experienced its sixth straight year of broad profitability in the medical liability insurance industry.

All of these factors indicate that the Florida medical malpractice insurance market has stabilized as a marketplace. More medical professional liability insurance carriers are writing business and this competition has lead to decreasing rates on average.

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Florida Medical Malpractice Insurance History

Before the turn of the century and the emergence of tort reform, Florida was considered one of the worst markets for both physicians and med mal insurance carriers. Specifically, the most unfavorable regions – Dade County, Broward County, and Palm Beach County – were listed by the American Medical Association (AMA) as three of the top “judicial hellholes” in America because of the vast number of claims and high premiums in those areas.

As a result, many doctors opted to drop their medical liability insurance and go bare. Certain conditions enabled doctors to practice without medical malpractice insurance. These conditions included post bond; establishing an escrow account; obtaining an irrevocable letter of credit; and, posting a sign on office doors announcing they do not carry insurance.

How Florida Medical Malpractice Insurance is Unique

Florida is a unique state as most physicians carry limits of $250,000/$750,000. This is significantly lower than the standard physician malpractice insurance limits around the country, which are $1,000,000/$3,000,000. The hospitals in Florida allow doctors to have hospital privileges with the lower medical liability limits. Additionally, medical professionals in Florida do have the option of selecting $1,000,000/$3,000,000 or choosing to ”go bare“altogether.

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Tort Reform

Since the establishment of tort reform in the early 2000s, Florida has experienced decreasing rates and the improvement of affordable malpractice insurance in the liability marketplace. Non-economic damages are capped between $500,000 and $1.5 million, based on a sliding scale. Hospitals have different caps than physicians in the state of Florida, and emergency medicine doctors have had a much lower cap of $150,000 since the turn of the century.

Additional statute of limitations in Florida include the requirement that claims are made within two years from the supposed malpractice incident, and the statute of repose, which protects healthcare providers from being sued more than four years from the time of the incident. The exception to the statute of repose involves cases where dealing with misrepresentation, fraud, or concealment.

Statute of Limitations

Florida is a unique state as most physicians carry limits of $250,000/$750,000. This is significantly lower than the standard physician malpractice insurance limits around the country, which are $1,000,000/$3,000,000. The hospitals in Florida allow doctors to have hospital privileges with the lower medical liability limits. Additionally, medical professionals in Florida do have the option of selecting $1,000,000/$3,000,000 or choosing to ”go bare“ altogether.

Recent Med Mal Legislative Activity in Florida

In recent months, a handful of new laws have made waves in the professional liability marketplace in Florida. The bills will make it harder to make malpractice claims against doctors because of increased limitations and standards of procedure for filing suit. On the one hand, many believe the new laws will make Florida a more attractive place for doctors to practice, while others claim the bills infringe upon patient’s privacy rights or hinder the doctor-patient relationship.

Senate Bill 1792 was signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott on June 5, 2013, resulting in stricter limits on the types of expert witnesses allowed in medical malpractice lawsuits. The bill also enables the physician’s lawyer to obtain the patient’s medical records from other previous healthcare providers. The primary intent of this law is to minimize confusion and frivolous lawsuits, and to make Florida more appealing to physicians.

Another new piece of legislature attempts to make it harder to make med mal claims against doctors by implementing a very tough standard of proof. This law will also allow lawyers to interrogate doctors privately, without the patient or the patient’s lawyer being present. A primary goal of the bill is to minimize the number of unnecessary tests doctors use to buffer against potential lawsuits, although opposers to the bill argue that it will damage the relationship between patient and client.

A third bill in debate for the summer of 2013 will enable the physician to choose from a recommended list of attorneys instead of simply being assigned an attorney directly. The law will also change the standard for expert witnesses used in trial to be professionals in the same field or specialty as the doctor being sued.

Despite the arguments surrounding these tort reforms, the provisions have made Florida a more stable and appealing state for medical professionals.

Summary of the Florida Medical Malpractice Insurance Market

Florida has an increasingly stable market professional liability market, as premium rates have continued to drop on average for physicians and surgeons, and tort reform has caused the number of closed claims to be lower each year. Florida is the fifth largest market for medical malpractice insurance by direct written premium, totaling $559,038,326 in 2010; and 23 carriers make up 80% of the marketplace in Florida. The process to file a professional liability lawsuit is lengthy, expensive, and complicated at times. Patients must submit a statement from a medical expert to support their initial claim, and doctors must be given advanced warning of a suit. However, despite the increased specifications and debates concerning tort reform in Florida, premiums have dropped significantly and the state has become a more stable place in which to practice medicine.

External Links and Resources for Florida Physicians and Surgeons