Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

Most Florida medical malpractice claims involve a medical professional and their patient. Yet some cases have raised the issue of whether other people can bring a claim against a medical professional where the plaintiff suffered an injury because of the professional’s negligent professional conduct.

In May 2016, a man was driving his truck on a highway when he crashed with a horse-drawn hay trailer, killing one passenger and injuring the other four passengers. In April 2015, the man had been declared blind and instructed not to drive. However, about six weeks before the crash, a doctor told the man that his vision had improved, and that could drive, with some restrictions. After the collision, the plaintiffs argued that the doctor was liable for their injuries because the man’s vision was still below the minimum vision standards required to drive according to state law. The plaintiffs argued that the doctor owed a duty to the injured parties to warn the man that his vision did not meet the standards to drive under state law.

In that case, the court considered whether the doctor could be held liable in such cases. The court found that it was somewhat foreseeable that a person who drivers with impaired vision might cause a car accident. However, the eye doctor did not treat or provide medication to the patient that led to his vision impairment. In addition, the court found the public policy concerns persuasive, such as how the imposition of a duty might affect the doctor-patient relationship, and such a duty would lead to higher health care costs. Therefore, the court found a doctor does not have a duty to third parties based on a doctor’s failure to warn a patient about driving risks resulting from the patient’s medical condition. However, the court found that the injured passengers could still sue the doctor because the driver had agreed to assign his medical malpractice claim and any recovery to the injured passengers.

Florida medical malpractice claims require extensive work and resources. In a recent medical malpractice case before a federal appeals court, the court had to consider whether a $7 million dollar verdict could stand against a doctor after a baby suffered permanent brain damage after her birth.

Evidently, the baby was born with severe respiratory issues and developed permanent brain damage. The baby was born at a hospital that did not have a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and did not have all of the equipment found in a NICU. Babies that needed specialized care were often transported to a nearby hospital with a NICU. This baby showed signs of respiratory distress immediately after she was born. She was provided with supplemental oxygen, and the doctor left for a few hours. The baby was not improving, and the doctor first decided to transfer the baby to the nearby NICU. However, a new neonatologist specialist at the hospital said that a transfer was not necessary, and agreed to take the baby on as a patient.

The baby’s condition continued to deteriorate, and she was eventually transferred the next day to the NICU, and stayed for almost a month. The baby’s mother filed a lawsuit alleging that the first doctor and others were at fault for the baby’s permanent brain damage. The mother claimed that the doctor should have transferred the baby from the hospital where she was born to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit that could have provided the baby with the care she needed. The other defendants settled the suit with the mother, but the case against the doctor went to trial, and the court awarded the mother over $7 million in damages.

While filing any personal injury case can be complicated, Florida medical malpractice cases have an exceptionally complex set of procedural requirements. If a plaintiff fails to follow these exacting requirements, the court will likely dismiss their case, potentially leaving the plaintiff without any remedy for their injuries.

When discussing the requirements of a medical malpractice lawsuit, perhaps the best place to start is with the Florida medical malpractice pre-suit requirements. Before an injury victim can file a medical malpractice case, they must provide notice to each of the defendants named in the lawsuit. The plaintiff must attach an affidavit from a medical professional stating that the plaintiff has a valid medical malpractice claim.

Once the defendant receives the plaintiff’s pre-suit notice, there is a 90-day period in which the defendant must investigate the claim and determine whether they will contest the allegations or agree to settle the claim. During these 90 days, the statute of limitations is tolled. If the defendant denies liability, the plaintiff will have 60 days from that date, or until the end of the statute of limitations, to file a formal case against all defendants.

When a patient is injured after receiving negligent medical care, they may be able to pursue a Florida medical malpractice lawsuit against the medical professionals they believe to be responsible for their injuries. Florida medical malpractice lawsuits, however, are subject to several additional requirements that can be burdensome for many prospective plaintiffs. For example, before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, a plaintiff must determine that there are “reasonable grounds” for their claim by conducting a pre-suit investigation.

There are several other differences between medical malpractice cases and traditional negligence cases. For example, due to Florida’s medical malpractice damages cap, the number of damages available to medical malpractice plaintiffs are capped at a lower amount than damages in traditional negligence claims. Finally, the stature of limitations in a Florida medical malpractice lawsuit is just two years, whereas the statute of limitations for traditional personal injury cases is four years.

That being said, most Florida injury victims would prefer that their case be classified as one of traditional negligence. However, when a case arises in a quasi-medical setting, defendants routinely try to categorize a plaintiff’s claim as a medical malpractice claim. Depending on the nature of the claim, the stage of litigation, and the amount of time that has passed, this could completely defeat a plaintiff’s chance at recovering for their injuries. A recent case illustrates the types of arguments defendants make in hopes of successfully categorizing the plaintiff’s claim as one of medical malpractice.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida medical malpractice case requiring the court to determine whether the plaintiff’s three expert affidavits were sufficient to comply with the requirements of Florida Statutes 766.102 outlining the expert affidavit requirement.

Florida’s Expert Affidavit Requirement

Under Florida law, a plaintiff bringing a Florida medical malpractice claim must conduct a pre-suit investigation to “ascertain whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the defendant medical provider was negligent, and that the negligence resulted in injury to the claimant.” In addition, a plaintiff must obtain an expert affidavit from a qualified expert stating that the expert has reviewed the plaintiff’s case, and that it has merit.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant orthopedic surgeon performed a hip-replacement surgery on the defendant. During the operation, the defendant fractured the plaintiff’s hip. The plaintiff filed a Florida medical malpractice claim against the orthopedic surgeon. In support of her claim, the plaintiff presented three expert witness affidavits from an emergency room physician, a radiologist, and a nurse.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a case discussing one of the most complex and contested elements in Florida medical malpractice cases. The case required the court to explain the causation requirement as it applies to Florida medical malpractice claims. Ultimately, the court remanded the case to the lower court based on the lower court’s application of an incorrect legal principle.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff noticed a large mass on the back of her head and went to her primary care doctor for an evaluation. That doctor determined that the mass was a tumor and referred the plaintiff to a surgeon. The surgeon diagnosed the mass as an osteosarcoma, and determined that it was close to pressing upon her brain. Thus, the surgeon recommended the plaintiff undergo surgery to de-bulk the tumor. However, before he ordered the surgery, the surgeon ordered several tests to make sure the plaintiff’s body could handle the surgery.

Evidently, the test results came back abnormal. However, the plaintiff’s primary care physician cleared her for surgery nonetheless. On the morning of the surgery, the plaintiff’s anesthesiologist was running late, so she was seen by another anesthesiologist (the defendant) who quickly reviewed the plaintiff’s test results. However, the defendant only saw some of the abnormal results. The defendant determined that, from what he saw, everything seemed fine. In the middle of the pre-anesthesia interview, the plaintiff’s anesthesiologist showed up, and began the evaluation from the beginning.

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Before a court hears any Florida medical malpractice case, specific procedural requirements must be met. If a court determines that a plaintiff failed to follow each of the necessary steps, the court will very likely dismiss a plaintiff’s claim. While some plaintiffs may be able to re-file their complaint after a dismissal, many plaintiffs will find that their claims are barred by the statute of limitations, leaving them without any means of recovery. Thus, in a Florida medical malpractice case, it is critically important to ensure that all procedural requirements are strictly followed.

A recent case illustrates the consequences of failing to comply with the pre-suit requirement to provide expert testimony in support of a claim.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff had a knee surgery performed at the defendant medical center. After the surgery, the plaintiff experienced shortness of breath. A doctor placed the plaintiff on oxygen, ordered an x-ray, and then sent her home two days later. Two days after her discharge, the plaintiff’s shortness of breath worsened, and she was admitted to a different medical center where she was diagnosed with pneumonia. It was also determined that the plaintiff likely had a stroke after her discharge from the defendant medical center.

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Earlier this month, the state’s supreme court issued a very important opinion in a Florida medical malpractice case discussing under what circumstances a plaintiff’s case must be dismissed when she fails to comply with the expert opinion requirement contained in Florida Statutes section 766.102. Importantly, the court held that a plaintiff’s case should not be dismissed for lack of a qualifying expert opinion unless the defense can show that the plaintiff’s failure to comply caused prejudice to the defense.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the personal representative of a woman who died after having a complicated pregnancy that resulted in the stillbirth of her child. Pursuant to section 766.203(2), the plaintiff designated an expert witness, who was a board-certified OB/GYN.

The plaintiff’s selected expert had over 30 years of experience in the field, and had delivered over 14,000 babies. She had also served as chief of the OB-GYN department at a large medical center, and Chief of Staff at a small women’s specialty hospital. In 2005, the expert began law school, and obtained her Juris Doctorate in 2007. However, when asked, the expert stated that she “was engaged in full-time patient care until March 2008.”

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida medical malpractice lawsuit discussing the potential consequences that may arise when a plaintiff fails to properly follow all of the procedural requirements. Ultimately, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit against the defendant because the pre-suit notice provided by the plaintiff contained the affidavit of an infectious disease doctor, rather than that of an ophthalmologist, which was the specialty of the defendant doctors.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff underwent a surgery to repair droopy skin around her eye. The surgery was performed by one of the defendant doctors. The surgery went as planned, and another defendant doctor conducted the post-surgical examinations. Both defendant doctors were ophthalmologists.

After the surgery, the plaintiff developed an infection in her eye. The infection left her with serious visual impairments, dizziness, and a heightened risk of future infections. She filed a personal injury lawsuit, first naming the doctor who performed the surgery as the only defendant. Attached to this claim, the plaintiff included an affidavit from an ophthalmologist stating that the plaintiff’s case had merit.

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Recently, a federal appellate court issued an opinion stemming from a lawsuit filed by the husband of a Navy lieutenant who died following complications from childbirth. The husband filed a lawsuit alleging that his wife’s death was caused by the negligence of the medical staff at a naval hospital. Ultimately, the court reluctantly affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit, based on the oft-criticized Feres doctrine.

The Facts of the Case

In 2013, a Navy lieutenant resigned from her position after she and her husband learned that they were expecting a child. Sadly, even though the woman’s pregnancy was normal, she died from severe hemorrhaging about four hours after her daughter’s delivery.

The Procedural Posture

Following the woman’s tragic death, her husband filed a lawsuit alleging that the hospital was negligent in their treatment of his wife and that their negligence resulted in her wrongful death. The district court dismissed the lawsuit based on the Feres doctrine.

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