Florida Appellate Court Reverses Jury Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case

Medical malpractice cases in Florida must meet high standards of proof. They usually require testimony from expert doctors and nurses who are willing to testify against the doctor or nurse in the case. A Florida appellate court recently reiterated the standards by which a plaintiff can win a medical malpractice case.

In the case, an eighty-seven year old woman fell and broke her hip. Before she fell, she had been reasonably healthy. After she fell, she was admitted for hip surgery and began to deteriorate. She started to suffer from anemia, a urinary tract infection and acute renal failure, among other things.

The woman became mostly immobile and needed help to move around. An anti-coagulant was prescribed to avoid a pulmonary embolism. She also developed a Stage IV bedsore on her spine. Nonetheless she was discharged from the hospital and moved to another facility.

A visiting doctor noticed that the bedsore was discharging material. He and a nurse used a scalpel to cut out the dead tissue, applying a topical anesthetic. Because of the anti-coagulant the woman was taking, there was a threat of excessive bleeding. Therefore, they could not remove all the dead tissue and treated it with enzymatic debridement. They made several recommendations for her treatment until they could visit again the following week to finish up their care of the bedsore.

Two days later, the woman overdosed on Coumadin and had to go to the hospital. While there, discharge from the bedsore was observed, but it was not treated. When she returned to her care facility, the treatment that was recommended was continued.

When the nurse returned to examine the bedsore, it had deteriorated. It smelled and the skin around it was stripping away. Therefore, the nurse cut more deeply to remove the necrotic tissue. Afterward, she ordered a continuation of the treatments.

The nurse returned the next week and saw that the bedsore had deteriorated further. She again surgically debrided the sore and cut deeper to drain the pus. She again asked that the woman not sit for more than an hour. A urine catheter was placed to deal with the woman’s incontinence.

Three days later, the woman had to be admitted to the hospital again for Coumadin issues and blood in her urine. The bedsore was evaluated but not treated any further. She was discharged to her daughter’s care where a registered nurse visited her every day. Ultimately she died of gastrointestinal bleeding, which was not related to the bedsore.

The daughter sued the visiting doctor and nurse, claiming that medical malpractice was the legal cause of her death. The daughter’s medical expert claimed that both the visiting nurse’s and doctor’s treatment fell below the standard of care by failing to admit her to a hospital to handle the sore, among other things. However, the expert could not testify with a reasonable degree of medical probability that if the doctor and nurse had followed his recommendations the wound would have progressed differently or caused their patient less pain.

The jury nonetheless returned a verdict for the daughter, assigning 65% fault to the doctor, 25% to the nurse and 10% to the nursing facility. The defendants moved for a new trial, but the court denied the motion and entered a final judgment. The defendants appealed, arguing that the daughter had failed to meet the standard for causation.

The appellate court explained that Florida follows the “more likely than not” standard for causation in medical malpractice cases. A plaintiff must show that more likely than not, a health care professional’s course of action caused an injury and that a decedent had a 51% or better chance of not dying, except for the medical care provider’s actions or lack of action.

Similarly, an expert nurse at the trial was not able to testify that her recommended procedure would have resulted in a better than 51% chance of healing or alleviating the woman’s pain. The appellate court reversed the judgment for the plaintiff.

If you or a loved one has been harmed by a medical professional’s negligence, you should retain an attorney experienced in medical malpractice claims to help you. Call the experienced South Florida medical malpractice attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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