Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

In a recent case, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a nonfinal order granting the appellee, a patient, an amended motion for leave to amend her complaint to state a claim for punitive damages against the appellant, a doctor. In the lawsuit, the patient alleged that the doctor improperly treated her using a medically unnecessary course of radiation after she was referred to him by another physician to treat a lesion on her hand. After discussing various treatments with the doctor, the patient opted for radiation treatment. The patient now alleges that the doctor’s treatment fell “well outside” the standard of care. The trial court allowed the patient to amend her complaint to add a punitive damages claim following a hearing on the motion.

The patient was referred to the doctor following a diagnosis of a lesion on her hand as squamous cell carcinoma by a different physician following a biopsy. The patient disputes whether the diagnosis was correct. After meeting with the doctor and discussing various treatment options, the patient opted for a radiation treatment plan. In the course of obtaining the patient’s informed consent, the doctor informed her that surgery was an option, but it would likely impact her ability to maintain her current lifestyle as an avid golfer. The patient agreed to the treatment plan offered by the doctor, which called for radiation treatment twice a day, with treatments sometimes occurring as little as forty-five minutes apart. The doctor alleges that he prescribes this protocol to all of his patients undergoing radiation therapy.

At trial, the patient subsequently sought leave to amend her complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages. She asserts that the radiation treatment that she received from the doctor was not recognized as acceptable in the medical community and that the doctor unnecessarily subjected her to an increased risk of cancer in her lifetime from the radiation for his own financial gain. In making this claim, the patient stated that the doctor’s actions amounted to more than mere negligence, and instead constituted behavior reflecting a conscious disregard for her life and safety. The patient included three items of evidence: 1) an attestation by her expert stating that the doctor’s treatment fell “way outside” of the standard of care; 2) the doctor’s deposition; and 3) documents of two federal cases involving the doctor that included allegations of Medicare fraud and obstruction of a criminal health care investigation. At trial, the court allowed the patient to amend her complaint to add the punitive damages claim.

In a recent case, the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a medical negligence complaint between a pro se appellant, the plaintiff, and the appellee, South Lake Hospital, Inc. (South Lake). The plaintiff later amended her complaint to include two employees of South Lake. The plaintiff filed a pro se complaint for negligence against South Lake following a car accident she experienced in 2016 and a subsequent misdiagnosis of injury by the South Lake emergency room staff. The trial court made a final order dismissing with prejudice the plaintiff’s amended complaint for damages against South Lake

On March 27, 2016, the plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident that resulted in excruciating back pain and visible bruising on the left side of her chest. She was transported from the site of the accident to South Lake’s emergency room. The plaintiff would later allege that in the emergency room, after around two hours, she was discharged after being told that her pain was due to arthritis. The plaintiff then sought medical treatment three days later at a different medical facility, where according to her, it was discovered that she had sustained numerous fractures in her back.

In February 2020, the plaintiff filed a pro se complaint against South Lake. South Lake moved to dismiss the complaint, and following a hearing on the motion, the plaintiff was given leave by the court to file an amended complaint. In December 2021, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint, adding an emergency medicine physician and a diagnostic radiologist as parties to the suit, asserting that both were employed by South Lake “when the negligence occurred.” Following a brief, the trial court dismissed all of the plaintiff’s actions “based upon expiration of the statute of limitations.”

In a recent case, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a wrongful death complaint between the Appellee, the plaintiff who is a personal representative of the decedent’s estate, and the Appellants, Cleveland Clinic Florida Health System (Cleveland Clinic). The plaintiff sued Cleveland Clinic for wrongful death after the decedent was admitted to the hospital through the emergency room, and healthcare providers performed an intubation action that caused fatal brain injuries. The trial court made a non-final order granting the appellee’s motion to amend a wrongful death medical malpractice complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages.

The decedent was admitted to the hospital through the emergency room. When his condition deteriorated, healthcare providers performed an intubation action that caused fatal brain injuries. To support their claims, the appellee relied on comments purportedly made by the hospital’s chief medical officer following the decedent’s death and arguments related to the appellants’ general failure to follow current policy procedures, make changes to their policies, and use the incident as a teaching opportunity for its interns, residents, and fellows. At trial, the court ruled that proffered evidence showed the doctors and other health care providers were grossly negligent by, contrary to the emergency room physician’s recommendation, placing the decedent on a floor level with fewer observation checks, failing to attend to the decedent during the various emergency calls, and beginning intubation without proper supervision, causing the delayed intubation that led to the decedent’s death. To support the punitive damages claim against the hospital, the trial court found a jury could conclude that the hospital’s response to the incident reflects its “condonement and ratification of the provider’s gross negligence.”

On appeal, the Cleveland Clinic argues that the trial court erred in ruling that the plaintiff made a “reasonable showing” under section 768.72 to recover punitive damages. The appellate court reverses the lower court decision for two reasons. First, the appeals court found that the proffered evidence at the hearing failed to show that the healthcare providers involved were grossly negligent. Second, neither the complaint nor the proffered evidence demonstrated how the appellants’ actions either before or during the decedent’s treatment ratified or approved the healthcare providers’ alleged negligent conduct. The appellate decision stated that “appellee’s proffered evidence provided no reasonable basis for recovery of punitive damages, which are reserved ‘to express society’s collective outrage.’” Further, the opinion states that even assuming the proffered evidence demonstrated gross negligence by the health care providers, the trial court erred in finding that a jury could reasonably conclude that the appellants ratified or condoned that negligence to subject it to punitive damages. The appeals court points out that the trial court relied on conduct that post-dated the treatment of the decedent and that such actions are not admissible on the issue of punitive damages. Subsequently, the appellate court reversed the lower court order.

Victims of medical malpractice in Florida must comply with strict procedural requirements before being allowed to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Florida law demands that a plaintiff complaining of medical malpractice perform an investigation into the reasonableness of their claim before pursuing legal action. Florida medical malpractice plaintiffs must submit a statement by a medical expert corroborating the reasonableness of the plaintiff’s malpractice claim. A plaintiff who fails to properly obtain and append such a report to their claim runs the risk of having the claim dismissed before being heard by the court. A Florida Court of Appeals recently ruled against a plaintiff on these grounds.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a woman who received care from the defendant in a Florida hospital complaining of abdominal pain. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant inappropriately discharged her before she obtained the needed treatment, causing her condition to worsen and eventually require surgery. The plaintiff pursued a medical malpractice claim against the defendant. As part of the pre-suit investigation process, the plaintiff obtained a statement from a gastroenterologist that corroborated the reasonableness of her claim. In response, the defendant argued that the plaintiff’s expert was not qualified because they did not work in a hospital setting. The trial judge denied the defendant’s arguments without putting any reasoning on the record, and the plaintiff’s case was set to proceed.

The defendant appealed the denial of their motion to the Florida Court of Appeals. On Appeal, the court noted that it is a statutory requirement for a trial court to put their reasoning on the record when accepting a medical expert opinion for purposes of the pre-suit investigation requirements for a Florida malpractice claim. Because the court’s ruling was not explained in the record, the Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and remanded the case to the trial court. Under this ruling, the plaintiff still may obtain relief, however, the ruling does make the process more timely and complicated.

Florida medical malpractice claims require claimants to demonstrate that their medical provider made an error that fell below the “prevailing professional standard of care.” This standard of care varies depending on the provider’s specific care, skill, surrounding circumstances and incident. Thus, courts view the prevailing standard of care in light of the unique circumstances of the particular situation. Further, medical malpractice claims require claimants to establish causation. Even if a provider’s standard of care fell below the prevailing standard, claimants must still prove that the mistake was not inconsequential.

Medical malpractice can stem from a variety of situations. Under Florida law, misdiagnosis, surgical errors, failure to treat, anesthesia errors, medication errors, and specialist malpractice can precipitate a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, successfully recovering damages requires strict adherence to Florida’s various medical malpractice procedural and evidentiary laws.

The Supreme Court of Florida recently considered the statutory presuit notice requirement under section 766.106. In this case, the plaintiff mailed the notice before the expiration of the limitations period; however, the defendant did not receive the notice until after the period would have expired, absent tolling. At issue is whether the statute of limitations is tolled upon the claimant’s mailing of the presuit notice of intent to begin litigation.

The Third District Court of Appeal in Florida recently issued an opinion in a defendant’s motion to dismiss a complaint. The plaintiff in the matter filed a lawsuit for injuries he suffered when a surgical table collapsed underneath him while he was preparing to undergo eye surgery. The victim argued that the facility breached a duty of care by warning him about the table. In addition, he contended that the facility failed to maintain and use the table properly. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint contending that the complaint did not meet Florida’s medical malpractice statute. The trial court found that the plaintiff adequately filed the complaint under the state’s ordinary negligence statute.

Under Chapter 766, the pre-suit requirements apply to claims arising out of the medical care or services in Florida. However, Fla. Stat. 766.106(1)(a) further explains that “merely because a wrongful act occurs in a medical setting” does not automatically mean that it falls under the state’s medical malpractice statute. Instead, the wrongful act or omission must directly relate to professional judgment or skills or the improper application of medical services. Under Florida law, there is a two-step inquiry to determine whether a claim stems from medical malpractice first, whether the wrongful act arose out of medical diagnosis, treatment or care, and second whether a healthcare provider rendered the treatment.

In this case, the plaintiff alleges ordinary negligence; however, the court must decide whether the complaint sounds in ordinary negligence or medical negligence. Here, the plaintiff’s allegations relate to the collapsing table and not to anything related to medical judgment or skills. The appeals court found that the mere fact that the table was used for a medical procedure does not amount to a medical malpractice claim. In support of their position, the Court cited similar cases which involved medical settings. For example, a Florida court held that a case involving a nursing caretaker’s restraining hold on an unruly patient did not require medical skill and thus did not fall under medical malpractice. Further, a previous decision explained that a medical provider’s decision to leave a critical care patient unsupervised, causing him to fall out of a bed, did not fall under medical malpractice. As such, the court denied the defendant’s petition to dismiss and affirmed the case in favor of the plaintiff.

In recent decades, the irresponsible prescription and distribution of opioid pain medications has resulted in tens of thousands of overdose deaths and immense harm to families and individuals from the harmful effects of the addictive drugs. Recent lawsuits filed on behalf of states and counties across the country against drug manufacturers have resulted in billions of dollars in settlements and awards to the plaintiffs to compensate them for the harm caused by the opioid epidemic. In a first-of-its-kind new verdict, a federal jury has found that pharmacies can also be held accountable for their contribution to the flood of opioid drugs onto our streets.

According to a national news report, a federal jury in Ohio reached a verdict in a case filed by several Ohio counties against three major pharmacy chains. The lawsuit alleged that the pharmacy chains contributed to a public nuisance by their lack of oversight in filling prescriptions for dangerous opioid drugs which contributed to overdoses and deaths within their jurisdictions. The decision represents the first time that a judge or jury has found that public nuisance laws apply to pharmacies in this context, and could result in other successful lawsuits against pharmacies for their role in the opioid epidemic. The news report cautions that similar cases have failed in other states and that each state’s differing public nuisance laws will play a role in whether pharmacies can be held accountable for their prescribing practices. Additionally, the defendants pledge to appeal the verdict to higher courts.

Licensed pharmacists have a duty to act in certain cases if they know or should know that a prescription is suspicious or erroneous. While the recent verdict determined that this duty can extend to filling opioid prescriptions, it also applies in a broader sense to other dangerous or mistaken prescriptions that a person attempts to fill. For example, a pharmacist has a duty to ensure that the dosage and drug prescribed to a patient are safe when considering the information known to the pharmacist. This duty helps prevent mistakes or typos by prescribing doctors from harming or killing patients who fill their prescriptions at a pharmacy. If a pharmacist fills a prescription that has a known harmful drug interaction with another medication that a patient is prescribed, they may be held accountable in civil court for the damages stemming from the prescription error, even if a licensed doctor wrote the prescription and it was properly filled.

Florida medical malpractice lawsuits must pass several procedural hurdles before a judge or jury is able to listen to the facts of the case and decide if the plaintiff is entitled to any relief. In Florida, one such rule requires plaintiffs to submit a statement from a qualified medical expert corroborating their claim before the suit can proceed. This requirement is designed to weed out meritless claims and free up space in court dockets for malpractice claims that have a chance of succeeding. A circuit of the Florida Court of Appeals recently addressed a petition filed by a group of medical malpractice defendants that alleged the plaintiff failed to meet the presuit expert corroboration requirements for a claim to proceed. The defendants petitioned the court to directly challenge a lower court ruling that denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim based upon this argument.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case sued several defendants affiliated with the Shands Teaching Hospital, located on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville. The plaintiff alleged in their suit that medical services provided by a certified nurse practitioner at the hospital were not compliant with the standard of care required and that the plaintiff was injured as a result. In order to comply with the presuit expert corroboration requirement for a Florida medical malpractice claim, the plaintiff submitted an affidavit from a certified medical doctor with knowledge in the field. In response to the plaintiff’s complaint, the defendants alleged that the plaintiff’s medical doctor expert was not qualified to address the standard of care applicable to the certified nurse practitioner who rendered care in the plaintiff’s case.

The trial court reviewed the qualifications of the plaintiff’s medical expert, comparing them with the substance of the plaintiff’s claim and the role assumed by the defendant. The court subsequently denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiff’s expert opinion was sufficient to fulfill the presuit requirements for the case to proceed. The defendants then filed a petition with the Florida Court of Appeals, attempting to have their motion reheard by a higher court. In addressing the petition, the high court noted the strict procedural requirements for the court to hear the defendants’ appeal, and ultimately declined consideration of their arguments. Specifically, the court ruled that the defendants did not show that proceeding with the case at the trial court would result in direct and irreparable harm to the defendants that could not be corrected on direct appeal. As a result of the appellate ruling, the plaintiff’s claim will proceed at the lower court toward a settlement or trial.

Recently, an appellate court issued a decision addressing whether a plaintiff’s claim falls under Florida’s negligence statute or the state’s medical malpractice statute. The plaintiff filed a claim against the defendant, a healthcare group, for injuries he suffered while receiving treatment at the facility. According to the record, the hospital admitted the patient for diagnostic imaging. Following the procedure, the plaintiff tried to move from the exam table to a wheelchair. However, the plaintiff fell because the attendant failed to secure the wheelchair brakes properly. The plaintiff claimed that his claim was based on ordinary negligence, not medical malpractice.

However, the court dismissed the complaint at trial, finding that the claim sounded in medical malpractice, and the plaintiff failed to abide by the applicable statute of limitations.

In cases like this, the initial inquiry is based on determining whether the claim stems from ordinary negligence or medical malpractice. According to Florida courts, these types of “gray-area” cases hinge on the specific circumstances of the injury. However, the law limits a court’s inquiry to the allegations within the “four corners” of the plaintiff’s complaint at the preliminary stages. In this case, the court found that the plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to meet the elements of an ordinary negligence claim. As such, they reversed the trial court’s finding, ruling that the dismissal with prejudice was inappropriate.

The procedural requirements for successfully pursuing a Florida medical malpractice claim may be complicated and confusing to victims of medical malpractice. Plaintiffs must be sure they are pursuing a case in the proper venue against any appropriate defendants. Additionally, plaintiffs must initiate their claim within the statute of limitations period and also meet several pre-suit notice requirements that can appear frivolous. These procedural requirements are far from frivolous, however, because a plaintiff’s failure to fulfill any of the requirements could be permanently fatal to their claim, irrespective of whether the defendant committed malpractice or not. A recent opinion published by the Florida District Court of Appeal discusses the issue of pre-suit notice requirements of a Florida medical malpractice claim.

The plaintiff in the recently decided suit received treatment from the defendant after suffering injuries while incarcerated. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant committed medical malpractice by making mistakes during a surgery performed on the plaintiff, which caused permanent damage. The plaintiff pursued a medical malpractice claim against the defendant based on the alleged negligence.

Florida law requires medical malpractice plaintiffs to meet certain pre-suit notice requirements in order to have their claims heard by the court. In addition to other notice requirements, plaintiffs must notify each defendant by certified mail that they are being sued for medical malpractice and include an authorization form to release the plaintiff’s medical records for the upcoming suit. If these notices are not properly sent to each defendant within the two-year statute of limitations for a Florida medical malpractice claim, a plaintiff’s suit can be dismissed without any analysis of their actual claims.

Contact Information