Appellate Court Addresses Causation Defense in Florida Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Recently, the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida (USF), appealed a final judgment in favor of a plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff underwent abdominal surgery at Tampa General Hospital. USF employed the surgeon that performed the plaintiff’s surgery. Post-surgery, the woman’s condition quickly deteriorated, and she was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU). The plaintiff alleged that during this time, her surgeon and a critical care team oversaw her care. After some time, the critical care team determined that her condition was likely an infection. The critical care team administered antibiotics, and the woman underwent a second surgery. The surgeon who performed the surgery discovered that there was a perforation in the woman’s bowel. The woman suffered severe life-altering injuries, which required several surgeries and long-term hospitalization and rehab.

The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice claim against her original surgeon, the hospital, and USF. The critical care team settled with the woman before trial. At trial against USF and the hospital, the plaintiff claimed that the surgeon perforated her bowel, and her injuries were the result of the failure of everyone involved in her treatment. The woman presented an expert who testified that she would not have suffered long-term injuries if the woman received timely antibiotic treatment.

USF countered that their surgeon was not negligent, and even if he was, the woman’s injuries were not the result of his negligence. Instead, they claimed that the plaintiff’s injuries were the result of the critical care team’s failure to administer antibiotics at the appropriate time. Further, the surgeon denied perforating the woman’s bowel and argued that the injury occurred after surgery. Moreover, both parties’ experts opined that even if the bowel injury occurred during an operation, that was not a departure from a standard of care. At the close of the evidence, the trial court dismissed the hospital from the case. USF argued that if the jury found them liable, the jury should consider apportioning liability to the critical care team.

The case was reset for trial, after the original jury could not reach a verdict. USF renewed its request, and the plaintiff filed a motion in limine to prevent the defendant from presenting evidence that anyone other than the surgeon was negligent. The judge ruled that USF could not include the critical care team on their verdict form. Despite the court’s order, the plaintiff’s expert testified that the failure to timely order antibiotics and surgically intervene was a breach of care; however, the second trial ended in a mistrial. At the third trial, the plaintiff did not call their expert; however, USF unsuccessfully asked the court to admit the testimony.

USF appealed, arguing the court deprived them of a causation defense because they did not allow them to present evidence that the critical care team’s failure caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Under Florida’s “empty chair” defense, defendants may argue that a non-party is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. Defendants only need to answer the complaint with a general denial and present their defense to a jury. Here, the court found that the trial court’s refusal to allow USF to present the plaintiff’s expert, who testified that the failure to state antibiotics was the cause of her injuries, deprived them the defendants of their defense. Ultimately, the court found that the defendant was deprived of a fair trial, and they remanded the case for another trial.

Have You Suffered Injuries as the Result of a Negligent Healthcare Provider?

If you or someone you know has been injured because of a negligent Florida healthcare provider, you should contact the attorneys at Friedman, Rodman, Frank & Estrada. The attorneys at our law firm understand the devastating effects of a medical malpractice injury, and take all steps possible to make the recovery process as easy on you as possible. These cases typically involve many parties and require a comprehensive understanding of personal injury laws. Our attorneys are up-to-date on relevant statutory and case laws, which allows us to provide our clients with top-notch representation. Contact our office at 877-448-8585 to discuss whether you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.

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