Florida Appeals Court Reverses Lower Court Decision in Medical Negligence Case

In a recent case, the Second District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a dispute between a patient, Michael Barber, and a hospital, Manatee Memorial Hospital. Barber challenged the trial court’s final summary judgment entered in favor of Manatee Memorial Hospital in Barber’s medical negligence action against the hospital. Barber sustained bilateral hip fractures while unconscious in the Manatee Memorial intensive care unit (ICU), where he was being treated for a drug overdose. Barber’s appeal involved the application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to his medical negligence action. The appellate court concluded based on the facts of the case that Barber was entitled to assert res ipsa loquitur in his case and that the application of the doctrine created a genuine dispute of material facts as to whether Barber’s unexplained bilateral hip fractures were the result of Manatee Memorial’s negligence.

Facts of the Case

On September 23, 2017, Barber, who was thirty-six years old at the time, attempted to end his life by taking four different prescription medications while at home. Fortunately, he had a change of heart and called 911. When emergency medical technicians (EMTs) responded, they found Barber in his garage pacing back and forth and smoking a cigarette. During the EMTs’ assessment, Barber began to have “seizure like activity,” but according to the Manatee County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) patient record, the seizure activity lasted less than thirty seconds and Barber had “purposeful movement during [the] event.” Barber was taken to the emergency department at Manatee Memorial. While there, Barber submitted to a psychiatric consultation. The notes from that consultation indicate that “[patient] walked from stretcher to ER stretcher.” Dr. Ghobrial’s Hospital History and Physical Report repeats that fact. The emergency department notes do not contain any indication that Barber complained of pain of any kind but do specifically state that the results of a musculoskeletal exam showed a normal range of motion, which a Manatee Memorial nurse testified at deposition referred to both upper and lower extremities.

However, within four hours of arriving, Barber’s condition deteriorated rapidly; he became nonresponsive, and medical staff sedated him, intubated him, put him on a ventilator, sent him for CT scans, and then transferred him to the ICU. He remained under observation in the ICU in a low position hospital bed equipped with an alarm and soft wrist restraints for the next fifty-five hours. Hospital records show that during that time, Barber’s vitals were continuously monitored and there were no complications.

At 1:05 p.m. on September 25, 2017, Barber was successfully extubated and remained in bed with suicide precautions in place, but his wrist restraints were removed. At 5:34 p.m., he was transferred with assistance to a bedside chair. At that time, he began to complain of pain in his right groin and thigh that felt like a “big cramp.” He was sent for x-rays, and while in the x-ray room, he complained of extreme pain and resisted when two assistants lifted him to place him on the x-ray board. Barber’s right leg was noted to be “turned outward,” and he was diagnosed with bilateral hip fractures. Barber underwent surgery at Manatee Memorial to repair his hip fractures, but no hospital personnel ever explained to him how his hips were injured.

The Decision

At trial, the court held a hearing to hear argument on summary judgment. Following the hearing, the trial court granted Manatee Memorial’s motion, concluding that Barber had failed to put forth sufficient evidence that his injuries were the result of negligence by the hospital. On appeal, Barber first argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in Manatee Memorial’s favor because he satisfied the criteria necessary to argue a res ipsa loquitur theory of negligence and that such a theory created a disputed issue of material fact that precluded the entry of summary judgment. The appellate court found his argument compelling, finding that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment, reversing and remanding the case for further proceedings. Further, the appeals court concluded that the trial court erred in granting Manatee Memorial’s motion in limine to exclude evidence of its failure to investigate the cause of Barber’s unexplained injuries once they were discovered, holding that such evidence is admissible in the case proceeds to trial.

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