Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

Claims of medical negligence in Florida are subject to strict rules that, if ignored, may result in a case getting prematurely dismissed before it is ever even heard by a jury. For example, Florida medical malpractice cases must be filed within a certain period of time, as outlined in the relevant statute of limitations. In addition, Florida medical malpractice claims must be accompanied by a pre-suit affidavit filled out by a medical professional, stating that the plaintiff’s case has merit in the professional’s opinion. Also, medical malpractice plaintiffs must take care to adequately allege the specific acts on which they are basing their case. A recent medical malpractice case out of Rhode Island illustrates how a plaintiff’s failure to comply with these procedural rules may result in unfavorable results.

SurgeryThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff – a breast cancer survivor – decided to undergo reconstructive breast surgery. She discussed the idea with the defendant doctor, who explained the risks involved with the procedure. Specifically, due to the radiation that the plaintiff received in her left breast to treat the cancer, she was at an elevated risk of having complications on that breast.

The plaintiff initially agreed to have surgery on both breasts, despite the risks. However, in her complaint, she claims to have changed her mind and have decided to only proceed with the surgery on her right breast. She claims to have let the defendant know of her decision. The defendant’s version of the events is different. He claimed that the plaintiff never changed her mind, or if she did, he was not made aware of her decision to do so.

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Before a doctor is able to perform any kind of non-emergency medical treatment, she must first obtain the patient’s consent. However, since the medical field can be so complex and the stakes so high, courts have held that physicians must do more than simply have a patient check a box indicating consent. Generally speaking, a doctor must fully inform the patient of the risks involved with the procedure in order to obtain informed consent. In Florida medical malpractice cases, if a doctor fails to obtain informed consent, and the patient suffers an injury as a result, the doctor may be liable under a theory of medical battery.

Surgical ErrorFlorida law imposes several requirements that a plaintiff must overcome before establishing liability. For example, even if the doctor failed to obtain informed consent, if the medical procedure was one that a reasonable patient would have consented to undergo, the doctor may not be liable. A recent case from nearby Oklahoma presented an interesting issue for the court to consider:  whether the patient must be informed of who will be assisting during the surgery.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a patient of the defendant doctor. During the course of the plaintiff’s treatment, the defendant recommended that the plaintiff undergo a total laparoscopic hysterectomy. The plaintiff agreed and scheduled the surgery.

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Earlier this year, an appellate court in Iowa issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case discussing the interesting topic of whether a plaintiff should be permitted to bring a medical malpractice case seeking compensation for the wrongful birth of a child. Ultimately, after surveying the laws of other states and taking into account the evolution of medical care, the court concluded that the plaintiff couple should be permitted to bring the lawsuit.

Pregnant WomanThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were expecting a baby boy. The defendants were several doctors who had provided the plaintiffs with pre-natal medical care throughout the pregnancy. A few months into the plaintiff-wife’s pregnancy, an ultrasound was performed with one of the defendant doctors reviewing the results.

The ultrasound indicated that the couple’s unborn son had a small head. Specifically, the circumference of the baby’s head was within the third-to-sixth percentile. However, that was never made known to the plaintiffs, and no further tests were performed.

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Earlier this month, the District Court of Appeal for Florida’s Fourth Circuit issued an interesting written opinion in a medical malpractice case requiring the court to determine if a medical release waiver signed by the plaintiff should prevent the plaintiff’s medical malpractice case from proceeding to trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the waiver’s language was vague and would not necessarily inform the signer which rights they were giving up by signing the document. As a result, the waiver was deemed invalid, and the plaintiff’s case was permitted to proceed.

Tight ContractThe Facts of the Case

In 2013, the defendant performed spinal surgery on the plaintiff. Prior to the surgery, however, the defendant doctor requested that the plaintiff sign a medical release waiver. The waiver stated that the doctor does not carry malpractice insurance and that by signing the waiver, the plaintiff agreed not to file a lawsuit against the doctor because the plaintiff understands that the defendant “will do the very best to take care of me according to community medical standards.” The plaintiff signed the agreement, and the surgery was performed.

During the surgery, the plaintiff’s ureter was cut, causing significant injuries. Notwithstanding the medical release waiver, the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice claim against the doctor. Not surprisingly, the doctor responded by asking the court to dismiss the case based on the plaintiff’s agreement not to sue in the event anything went wrong.

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Medical malpractice cases comprise a large portion of the cases that are filed in Florida courts each year. To help courts sort through the claims, and to ensure that only meritorious claims are presented to the court, the Florida legislature has implemented a requirement that all medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed with an accompanying certificate of counsel. The certificate must state that counsel has conducted a reasonable investigation into the case and that the plaintiff’s theory of liability is supported by at least one medical expert’s opinion. A failure to file this certificate may result in the dismissal of an otherwise meritorious case.

Pills in HandA recent decision issued by a Vermont appellate court illustrates what can happen if a plaintiff fails to file the required certificate.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a woman who had died after ingesting a lethal combination of prescription and non-prescription medication. After the plaintiff discovered how her loved one had died, she filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the doctor who had prescribed the deceased woman the prescription medication. According to the court’s opinion, the doctor had prescribed several different types and doses of opioid medication.

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The Florida Supreme Court recently determined that a plaintiff who undergoes a procedure and has a foreign object left in their body is always entitled to a presumption of negligence. Before this decision, a federal appeals court had decided that a plaintiff was not entitled to the presumption where direct evidence of negligence exists. The Florida Supreme Court’s decision changed in this most recent opinion, making it easier for Florida plaintiffs to recover.

Surgeon's ToolsFacts of the Case

In 2011, a man was admitted to a hospital for a surgical procedure. During the procedure, the surgeon inserted a drainage tube into his abdomen. These tubes are normally removed after surgery. The tube was removed a few days later, but a section of the tube was accidentally left inside his abdomen.

After the man began experiencing pain in his abdomen, a CT scan showed that the section of the tube was still in his body. The man then had a second surgery to have the tube removed.

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Earlier this month, a West Virginia appellate court issued a written opinion in a slip-and-fall case illustrating one of the difficulties plaintiffs may encounter when their injury occurs at a hospital or doctor’s office. The issue in the case was whether the plaintiff’s slip-and-fall case should have been characterized as a premises liability case or a medical malpractice case. Ultimately, the court held that since the injury occurred while the plaintiff was seeking “health care related” services, the case was properly considered a medical malpractice case.

Exam RoomThe case involved an elderly woman who accompanied her husband to an urgent care facility. After the couple arrived and checked in, they were shown to the examination room by a medical assistant. The medical assistant instructed the patient to get onto the examination table and wait for the doctor to arrive. As the man attempted to climb onto the table, he fell, landing on his wife. Shortly after the incident, the man died from complications related to the injuries he sustained in the fall.

The man’s wife filed a personal injury case against the urgent care facility under a premises liability theory. However, the urgent care facility claimed that the case should have been brought under the state’s medical malpractice statute, arguing that it was “related” to the provision of health care services. The court agreed.

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“Better late than never” is not always true in the legal world. Sometimes, failing to object to an issue in a case may mean being barred from raising the issue at a later date. In a recent case, one state’s supreme court found a defendant’s claim that the plaintiff’s affidavits were filed late could not be raised on appeal and had been waived.

HospitalIn that case, a man had filed a medical malpractice claim against a hospital, alleging he was mishandled by an occupational therapist during a post-operative stay at the hospital and that he became quadriplegic as a result. The case went to trial, and the jury found the hospital was negligent in caring for the man but that it did not cause his quadriplegia. The man later died, and his wife took his place in the lawsuit.

The wife requested a new trial because her husband’s autopsy purportedly contradicted the jury’s decision on causation. The wife filed required affidavits from experts explaining the significance of the autopsy report, but she failed to pay the required filing fee. Two days later, the court canceled the time stamp and did not process the submissions, at which time the filing date had passed. The next day, the wife’s submissions were stamped as received with the required filing fees, and the affidavits were filed four days later. Importantly, the hospital did not object to the memorandum or affidavits as being untimely at the time. The court then granted the motion for a new trial based on the new evidence.

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The Supreme Court of Mississippi recently published a decision in which the court found a circuit court appropriately dismissed three wrongful death lawsuits that had been filed by a family member of a man who died while under the care of the defendant doctors and hospital. The three lawsuits were dismissed because they were filed after a separate lawsuit was filed against another doctor based on the same death, and state law only permits one wrongful death lawsuit to be pursued at a time for each death. As a result of the recent ruling, the woman’s claims against all of the defendants not included in her first lawsuit will be difficult or impossible to pursue.

Doc's White CoatThe Plaintiff’s Loved One Allegedly Dies as a Result of Medical Negligence

The plaintiff in this case is a woman who lost a loved one in September 2013. The plaintiff alleged that her loved one’s death was a result of medical negligence and sought relief from the doctors who were caring for the man before his death, as well as the hospital where the man was being treated. Since the doctors were private parties employed by the state-run hospital, the woman followed different procedures and filed different lawsuits against each doctor, as well as two separate lawsuits against the state-run hospital.

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The California Court of Appeals recently released an opinion affirming a lower court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit filed against an ambulance company and hospital by a man who was injured while under the care of the defendants. The appellate court agreed with the district court’s finding that the claim was subject to the one-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims and was time-barred by the statute of limitations.

GurneyThe Plaintiff’s Injuries Resulted in a Personal Injury Lawsuit

The plaintiff in Nava v. Saddleback was dropped from a gurney while being transported into the hospital from an ambulance and suffered from broken bones and severe pain as a result of his fall. He contacted an attorney and filed a personal injury and negligence lawsuit against the defendants 23 months after the fall occurred. The defendants asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiff’s claim was for medical malpractice and needed to be filed less than one year after the plaintiff was injured under the state’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases. The district court agreed with the defendants and entered judgment in their favor, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeals Defines the Claim as One of Medical Malpractice

On appeal, the high court accepted the ruling of the district court, noting that any personal injury claim “related to” medical care that alleges the professional negligence of a health care provider is subject to the shorter, one-year statute of limitations. Since the plaintiff was receiving professional medical care from the defendants when his injuries occurred, the court ruled that his case was time-barred because the one-year statute of limitations applied. As a result of the recent appellate ruling, the plaintiff will not receive compensation for his injuries.

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