Angela Samples, etc., et al., v. Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (SC10-1295) addressed the constitutionality of the limitation in s. 766.31(1)(b)1., Fla. Stat., of a single award of $100,000 to both parents entitled to compensation under the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Plan (Plan).

In 2007, a child with birth-related neurological injuries was born to the Samples. The Samples filed a claim for compensation with the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) pursuant to the Plan. The Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA) set up by the Plan stipulated that the parents’ claim was covered under the Plan. The Plan provides in part for parental compensation of up to $100,000 (in addition to necessary costs of care for the child and other compensation). NICA stipulated that it typically does not dispute payment of the full $100,000 depending on whether a claim is submitted by both parents, or only one.

The Samples argued that the $100,000 cap on parental compensation violated equal protection, was void for vagueness, and impermissibly restricts access to courts. The Court considered each claim in turn.

With respect to equal protection, the court noted that there is no invidious classification or fundamental right implicated by the cap. Accordingly, the cap would be subject to rational basis scrutiny. The Court held that seeking to ensure the actuarial solvency of the Plan was a legitimate state interest. Imposing a cap on parental compensation, without regard to whether one or two parents submitted a claim, was rationally related to pursuing the state interest, and so did not violate equal protection.

The Court next addressed the question of vagueness. The Court pointed out that the void-for-vagueness doctrine is a component of constitutional due process requirements; it is in place to ensure that laws that require or prohibit action be sufficiently clear so that affected persons are aware of what behavior is required or prohibited. The cap was not such a law, and so the vagueness doctrine was not applicable to the cap.

Finally, the Court turned to the question of whether the cap impermissibly restricted the parents’ access to obtain a remedy through the courts, as set forth in Art. I, sec. 21 of the Florida Constitution. The majority pointed out that there are two exceptions to the access to courts provision. The first permits the Legislature to limit access to courts if a reasonable alternative remedy or commensurate benefit is provided. The second exception is met if there is a legislative showing of overpowering public necessity of a limitation and no alternative method of meeting such a necessity is available. Kluger v. White, 281 So.2d 1, 4 (Fla. 1973). The Court concluded that the compensation Plan provides a reasonable alternative to the otherwise speculative and uncertain compensation that parents might receive through traditional tort remedies, and, since the Plan is not the exclusive remedy in cases where there is evidence of bad faith or malicious conduct, the cap’s limit on parental compensation did not impermissibly limit access to courts.

Parental Compensation Cap in Florida’s Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Plan Is Upheld

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