Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

clock.jpgThe outside limit in Florida for suing for medical negligence is seven (7) years from the date of the incident or occurrence giving rise to the action. This time limit is set forth in Florida Statute 95.11(4)(b) and is known as the Statute of Repose.

Florida’s Statute of LImitations for medical malpractice, also part of 95.11(4)(b), is 2 years from the time the malpractice “is discovered, or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence; however, in no event shall the action be commenced later than 4 years from the date of the incident or occurrence out of which the cause of action accrued….”
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hospital.jpgMost people do not know that many doctors who work in hospitals are not hospital employees, but independent contractors. This is not a distinction without meaning.

The distinction can have significant legal consequences for the victims of medical negligence seeking to be fairly compensated for harm done, especially catastrophic damage.

Generally, employers are bound by the negligence of their employees. This is the concept of respondeat superior, where a passive party is liable for the negligence of another party.

The legal principle is not applicable in relationships involving independent contractors. The general rule is that entities, including hospitals, are not liable for the negligent acts of independent contractors.

Thankfully, there are exceptions to the rule, circumstances wherein an entity can be held to account for the negligent conduct of an independent contractor. In the context of hospitals, these are the exceptions:

  • The medical provider is either an actual or apparent agent of the hospital. See Roessler v. Novak, 858 So.2d 1158, 1161-62 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003). Three elements must be present for apparent agency: (a) a representation by the principal; (b) reliance on that representation by a third party; and (c) a change in position on the reliance. Mobil Oil Corp. v. Bransford, 648 So.2d 119, 121 (Fla. 1995). Importantly, apparent agency does not arise from the subjective understanding of the third party. Izquierdo v. Hialeah Hosp., Inc., 709 So.2d 187, 188 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998). Rather, as indicated in the Mobil Oil case, its presence is wholly dependent on the appearance created by the principal. In Roessler, the appellate court recited the following facts as creating enough of a question on the issue of apparent agency to reverse the trial court’s order dismissing the claim against the hospital:

    In the present matter, evidence presented to the trial court for the purpose of the summary judgment proceeding demonstrated that Sarasota Memorial maintained a radiology department which was physically located within the hospital’s grounds. Sarasota Memorial contracted with SMH Radiology Associates, P.A., for it to be the exclusive provider of professional radiological services at the hospital. Dr. Lichtenstein was an employee of SMH Radiology on the date he interpreted Mr. Roessler’s scans. Neither Dr. Lichtenstein nor SMH Radiology had offices outside of Sarasota Memorial’s hospital grounds. The radiologists employed by SMH Radiology, including Dr. Lichtenstein, worked at Sarasota Memorial to provide all professional radiological services twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to Sarasota Memorial’s inpatients and outpatients.

  • Mr. Roessler sought the services offered by Sarasota Memorial when he went to Sarasota Memorial’s emergency department. 1163*1163 He was admitted to Sarasota Memorial as an inpatient through Sarasota Memorial’s emergency department. Once Mr. Roessler arrived at Sarasota Memorial and was admitted as an inpatient, the hospital provided him with the health care services and providers it determined to be necessary. Such services included inpatient professional radiological services, which were provided by Sarasota Memorial through its radiology department. After abdominal scans were taken in its radiology department, Sarasota Memorial assigned Dr. Lichtenstein to interpret them. Like the plaintiff in Cuker, 605 So.2d 998, Mr. Roessler did not attempt to secure a specialist on his own, but instead accepted the physician provided to him by the hospital.

  • The hospital fails to exercise due care in the selection and retention of an independent contractor medical provider on the hospital staff. See Insinga v. LaBella, 543 So.2d 209, 214 (Fla. 1989). In Insigna, a patient died in the hospital from botched treatment from a phony doctor who had been granted hospital privileges. The decedent’s estate sued the hospital negligent selection and retention of the imposter. Relying on the general proposition that principals are not liable for the negligence of independent contractors, the lower court dismissed that part of the claim against the hospital. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed with the lower tribunal, finding, “as a matter of public policy, that hospitals are in a better position to protect their patients and, consequently, have an independent duty to select and retain competent independent physicians seeking staff privileges.”
  • Where the duty is non-delegable. See Pope v. Winter Park Healthcare Group, Ltd., 939 So.2d 185, 187 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006). With regard to hospitals, the duty may arise out of a statute, a regulation, or a contract. Id. at 187-88. The contract concept is summarized well in a jury instruction the appellate court in Irving v. Doctor’s Hospital of Lake Worth, Inc., 415 So.2d 55 (Fla. 4th DCA 1982) decided should have been given by the trial judge: “[O]ne who undertakes by contract to do for another a given thing cannot excuse himself to the other for a faulty performance, or a failure to perform, by showing that he has engaged another to perform in his place, and that the fault or failure is that of another or independent contractor.” Irving was an action involving the liability of a hospital for alleged negligent diagnosis and treatment by an emergency room physician that resulted in serious injury to appellant’s minor daughter. The ER physician was an independent contractor, rather than an employee of the hospital. The DCA reasoned that since the hospital was under contract to render medical care to the child, it could not excuse the fault of the ER doctor because he might have been an independent contractor.
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dollars.jpgAs if the arbitrary and capricious damage caps already on the books were not enough, the 2012 Republican-controlled Florida Legislature is moving forward with legislation designed to keep those harmed by medical negligence from ever being compensated for their losses.

Senate Bill 1506 will allow doctors to get patients to waive their right to compensation for losses suffered from medical malpractice.

That’s right, not a single penny for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, or for pain and suffering!!!

How could this be, you ask. Simple. With a Governor Rick Scott and a super-majority of radical Republicans controlling both chambers of the Florida Legislature, anything is possible.

Eliminate zoning restrictions on pristine land. Done. Tax dollars to private religious schools. Done. Reduce spending for public schools. Done. Suppress voting rights. Done.

Ending the rights of malpractice victims. Almost done.
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barricade.jpgEffective October 1, 2011, individuals seeking redress for injuries caused by medical errors face yet another obstacle placed in their path by Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature. The new legislation applies to cases that arise on or after October 1, 2011.

The new legislation, Florida Statute 766.1065, forces claimants to provide target defendants with a medical authorization form along with the notice of intent to initiate litigation. The problem is that the authorization requirements of 766.1065 appear to abrogate the privacy rights of patients under Florida Statute section 456.057(7)(a) and the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act at 42 USC Section 201 et seq. (commonly referred to as HIPAA) and 45 CFR Section 164.512.

It is too early to tell how the conflict will be resolved. One would like to believe that privacy rights will hold sway, but the forces seeking to insulate medical providers and their malpractice insurance companies hold an inordinate amount of influence in this state, so the outcome is anything but predictable.

The consequences of failing to comply with 766.1065 could be fatal to the case, so it is best not to play with that fire. We recommend providing the required authorization form, but include a statement in the notice of intent to initiate litigation, in bold large face type, that the authorization does not abrogate or supersede the doctor-patient privacy/confidentiality rights deliniated in the aforementioned citations.

Perhaps even more problematic to the pursuit of due process than the authorization, is the further hurdle created by the new law that for physicians licensed in other states to provide expert testimony in Florida about the prevailing professional standard of care or to execute and submit presuit verified written expert medical opinions, they must obtain certain certificates. Florida Statute Sections 766.102(12) and 458.3175. This is an onerous requirement designed to make it more difficult for those harmed by malpractice to pursue just compensation.
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doctor.jpgMedical providers (doctors, hospitals, nurses), aligned, for the most part, with Republican politicians, believing them to be covering their backs, will be surprised to learn that, in a battle between them and medical malpractice insurance companies, they have been stabbed in the back.

Florida Statute 766.1185 (2003) is a safe-harbor statute for medical mapractice insurers. It gives them 210 days after a formal Complaint is served on one of its insureds to avoid having to satisfy an excess (of the policy limits) judgment. If the insurance carrier tenders the policy limits within the 210 days, it is safe from having to pay the excess portion of any judgment.

Although the insurance carrier may be safe, the insured is not. For the carrier to benefit from the safe-harbor statute, it is the tender alone, rather than a tender and acceptance, and thus a release of liability, that matters. The statute does not make acceptance of the tender mandatory. The operative act for carrier protection is the tender.
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scales of justice.jpgNot satisfied with the existing arbitrary damage caps on non-economic damages (e.g., pain & suffering) contained in Fla. Stat. 766.118 – presently under challenge in Estate of Michelle Evette McCall v. United States of America* as violating the Florida Constitution – Florida’s 2010 Republican-controlled legislature created additional barriers to the rights of individuals harmed by medical negligence.

Caps on non-economic damages for Medicaid patients. Contained in 766.118(6), Medicaid recipients harmed by medical negligence are limited to $300,000 in non-economic damages. The arbitrary cap applies regardless of the damage, including death and catastrophic injury (e.g., brain damage; paralysis).

Sovereign immunity granted to private medical schools and their employees providing services at teaching hospitals (primarily affects the University of Miami through its dealings with Jackson Memorial Hospital). The new measure is contained in F.S. 766.1115. I have blogged recently about the dangers associated with sovereign immunity – Sovereign Immunity and Florida Personal Injury Law. Sadly, the Florida Legislature has seen fit to extend the dangerous doctrine to private for-profit corporations.
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thumbing nose.jpgIn 2004, more than 80-percent of Florida voters passed Amendment 7, technically Article 10 Section 25 of Florida’s Constitution, commonly known as the “Patients’ Right to Know Act.” The amendment provides that “patients have a right to have access to any records made or received in the course of business by a health care facility or provider relating to any adverse medical incident.”

Not surprisingly, a number of hospitals quickly lined up to challenge the scope of the voter-approved constitutional amendment. In essence, they sought to keep from having to produce documents relating to the investigation of adverse medical incidents, and in one of the cases, relating to the selection, retention, or termination of a doctor accused of medical negligence.

In 2008, The Florida Supreme Court, in Florida Hosp. Waterman, Inc. v. Buster, 984 So. 2d 478 (Fla., 2007), ruled against the hospitals, declaring that the shroud of privilege that existed in Florida with regard to medical records had been lifted by Amendment 7 to “allow patients to better determine from whom they should seek health care, evaluate the quality and fitness of health care providers currently rendering service to them, and allow them access to information gathered through the self-policing processes during the discovery period of litigation filed by injured patients or the estates of deceased patients against their health care providers.” (The quoted language was used by the Supreme Court from the written opinion of Judge Sawaya in Florida Hospital Waterman, Inc. v. Buster, 932 So.2d 344 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006).
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doctor conference.jpgThe question often arises in civil cases as to which witnesses the Plaintiff’s lawyer is prohibited from communicating with outside the presence of the Defendant’s counsel. The answer is governed by Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-4.2.

The Rule was put to the test in the context of a medical malpractice case in Lee Memorial Health System, d/b/a Healthpark Medical Center v. Jeffrey Smith and Melissa Smith, individually, and as Parents and Natural Guardians of Kiarra Summer Smith, a minor, 40 So.3d 106 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010). The Smiths filed a medical malpractice action on behalf of their daughter against Lee Memorial. In their complaint, they alleged that the hospital fell below the standard of care in calculating nutritional solutions. The injuries alleged in the complaint included permanent neurological damage, lack of normal head growth, and cerebral palsy.

While the suit was ongoing, the child was receiving care and treatment from a pediatric neurologist and several other physicians who were employed by Lee Memorial. The child’s lawyers tried to meet with the doctors to discuss her medical condition. Lee Memorial asked the court to prohibit the meetings. The circuit court refused, so Lee Memorial petitioned the district court of appeal to do so. It also refused, reasoning as follows:

The prohibition against communicating with members of a represented organization [like Lee Memorial] is applicable to only three categories of persons or employees: (1) those who supervise, direct, or regularly consult with the organization’s lawyer concerning the matter; (2) those who have the authority to obligate the organization with respect to the matter; or (3) those whose act or omission in connection with the matter may be imputed to the organization for purposes of civil or criminal liability.

The court decided that none of the child’s treating doctors fell within any of these categories.
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Congressional Republicans are unrestrained hypocrits and ardent agents of America being a money-centered society over a people-centered society. The lure of big money trumps (pun intended) their lip service philosophy of limiting big government to empower the people.

H.R. 5, the so-called Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Health Care (HEALTH) Act of 2011, is a terrible bill and is as anti-consumer and anti-victim as it gets. This bill would severely limit the ability of injured patients and their families to hold health care and medical products providers accountable. It would also limit remedies against for-profit nursing homes, insurance and pharmaceutical industries, manufacturers of medical devices, and even against doctors who commit intentional torts, such as sexual abuse.

To accomplish all of this, the federal law would preempt laws on the books in every state addressing the same issues.

What are the rights of expectant parents for the death of a fetus from an incident like a slip and fall or medical malpractice? Surprisingly, because a fetus is not considered a person under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act, Tanner v. Hartog, 696 So.2d 705 (Fla. 1997), neither parent may bring a claim for wrongful death or for loss of companionship. U.S. v. Dempsey, 635 So.2d 961 (Fla. 1994).

Because the law treats the death of a fetus as a physical injury to the mother, the mother may bring a personal injury action against the at-fault party. The action can include a claim for emotional injuries.

The viability of a father’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress is far less certain. The answer depends, in part, on the mysterious and unpredictable “impact rule.”

In Florida, whether a person may recover for emotional injuries is governed by the impact rule. Florida’s impact rule provides as follows: “[b]efore a plaintiff can recover damages for emotional distress caused by the negligence of another, the emotional distress injuries must flow from personal injuries the plaintiff sustained in an impact. The rule actually requires some impact on the plaintiff, or, in certain situations, the manifestation of severe emotional distress such as physical illness.” Fla. Dep’t of Corr. v. Abril, 969 So.2d 201, 206 (Fla. 2007).”

The rule was developed to limit “fictitious or speculative claims.” Willis v. Gami Golden Glades, LLC, 967 So.2d 846, 850.
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