Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

If an individual suffers injuries because of a defective product, the law allows that individual or their family to bring forth product liability claims against the negligent designer, manufacturer or distributor of the item. Defective product lawsuits involving medical devices tend to be some of the most complex Florida injury lawsuits. These cases often involve the convoluted interplay between medical malpractice and defective medical device claims. Both of these claims can stem from various situations; however, they tend to occur after improper anesthesia administration, injuries occurring at a hospital, and misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. These and other forms of negligence can have life-long debilitating or fatal consequences for a patient and their families.

Effective healthcare relies on sophisticated medical devices that can help medical providers treat patients swiftly and safely. Medical devices can aid medical professionals in diagnosing illnesses, monitoring conditions, treating injuries, and heal diseases. While these cutting-edge tools provide an invaluable asset to both doctors and patients, they are not fool-proof and may cause serious injuries.

Injury victims and their families who wish to recover for injuries resulting from a defective medical device must present compelling factually and legally sound cases to the court. These cases often rely on expert witness testimony. Under Florida’s Daubert standard, a trial judge may qualify an expert as such if they meet specific requirements. The standard allows a qualified expert to testify if they possess the specialized skills, training, or education to assist a fact-finder in understanding a specific fact at issue. The expert’s testimony must be based on requisite facts or data, it must be the product of reliable principles and methods, and the expert must have applied the methods and principles to the facts of the case.

An appeals court recently issued an opinion in medical malpractice cross-appeal involving negligent medical treatment of a passenger on a Florida cruise ship. According to the court’s opinion, a cruise ship passenger awoke with stomach pains on the third day of his trip. After vomiting during dinner, the passenger went to the ship’s medical center. The doctors administered a blood test, x-ray and monitored his heart. They concluded that the passenger was experiencing a heart attack and admitted him to the cruise liner’s intensive care unit. The onboard physicians determined that administering clot-busting medication would be too risky, so they monitored him before porting in Florida, where an ambulance took him to a hospital. The passenger eventually obtained a pacemaker and filed a lawsuit against the cruise liner, alleging medical negligence.

A jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him $2,000,000; however, a district court reduced the damages to $1,700,000. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the court erred in excluding expert testimony regarding evidence of the passenger’s loss of earning capacity. The damages expert testified to the plaintiff’s loss of earnings and prepared three models to support his testimony. In response, the defendants argued that the expert was not a vocational expert, and his analysis was based on the plaintiff’s subjective descriptions.

Amongst several issues, the appeals court analyzed whether the lower court erred in excluding the expert’s testimony and granting the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict on the loss of earning capacity. The law allows medical malpractice victims to recover damages against an at-fault party for impaired earning capacity. The compensation is designed to address reductions in a victim’s income stream because of the defendant’s negligence. The judge or jury determines the value of the loss by estimating the loss of work because of the injury, calculating the lost income, adding the total damage, and subtracting that amount to its present value. Moreover, federal rules of evidence require that experts meet specific prerequisites for their testimony to be admissible.

shutterstock_668481628-300x200In a brand-new opinion, Ruiz v. Tenet Hialeah Healthsystem, Inc., et al., the Supreme Court of Florida reinforced that the concept of causation in medical malpractice is broad and should be left to a jury. The fact pattern in Ruiz involved a patient who was misdiagnosed with a tumor instead of multiple myeloma. Without ordering a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis, the treating neurosurgeon recommended a surgery to remove the “tumor”. During the surgery, the patient, Ms. Espinosa, went into cardiac arrest due to undiagnosed cardiac risk factors and passed away.

Ms. Espinosa’s estate brought a wrongful death medical malpractice case against a host of doctors and the hospital. One of the defendants was an anesthesiologist, Dr. Lorenzo, who had failed to recognize abnormal test results during the pre-operative clearance. The estate contended that had the defendant anesthesiologist pronounced these abnormalities, the surgery would have been cancelled and Ms. Espinosa would not have died.

The defendant doctor sought to have the case dismissed based on a failure to prove causation, e.g., that he was the legal cause of the patient’s death. Causation is a legal concept that bridges the gap between a defendant’s wrongdoing (negligence) and the damages sought by the plaintiff. In every personal injury and medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s negligence was the legal and proximate cause of the injuries and damages that she is claiming.

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At some point in life, every person surely has received the age-old advice to read a contract before signing it. However, what if you are awoken from a comatose state only to realize that a contingency fee contract with a law firm was executed on your behalf?

On April 4th, 2018, the Fourth District Court of Appeal decided the case of William O’Malley v. The Freeman Law Firm, which serves as a cautionary tale to lawyers who work on contingency fee agreements. In this case, the appellant, William O’Malley, was involved in a horrendous car wreck that left him in a coma for months. During this period, his mother sought representation on his behalf and signed a personal injury contingency fee contract as the personal representative of the Estate of William O’ Malley. Problem: the mother was never actually appointed as personal representative! Moreover, Mr. O’Malley had not executed a power of attorney in favor of his mother, nor had he been declared legally incompetent by a court, which could have led to an appointment of a legal guardian.

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Florida has a very complex medical malpractice statutory scheme that an injured victim must follow in order to bring a case. Codified under chapter 766, the medical malpractice statutes require great skill to navigate. Amongst a host of other requirements, an injury victim must send relevant data to an expert medical professional in the same or similar specialty as the health care provider who you are going to bring suit against. That expert must then issue an affidavit verifying the negligence. The expert affidavit, along with several other documents, must then be served on the defendant doctor as part of a Notice of Intent to Initiate Medical Malpractice Litigation. All of the above must be accomplished within the two-year Statute of Limitations that Florida law affords victims of medical malpractice.

The recent case of Bay County Board of Commissioners v. Seeley provides us with a nice look at just how complex medical malpractice litigation can be. In Seeley, the plaintiff was injured when she fell off a stretcher while being wheeled by paramedics from her home to the awaiting ambulance. At first, she filed a lawsuit without complying with the medical malpractice pre-suit screening process because she did not believe her case was for medical negligence. That lawsuit was dismissed as the trial court determined her allegations were in fact medical malpractice in nature and thus she had to comply with the requirements of chapter 766.

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In Woodson v. Go, Florida’ Fifth District Court of Appeal (“Fifth DCA”) held that even in complex medical malpractice cases, the trial court has broad discretion to place limitations on expert witnesses. The holding represents a self-proclaimed rescission from Lake v. Clark, a 1988 Fifth DCA decision that overturned a trial court’s exclusion of a doctor’s expert witness testimony on standard of care.

The Woodson case involved a Plaintiff who claimed medical malpractice for negligent placement of a cardiac cauterization and failure to timely detect the resulting occlusion. To further his case, the plaintiff sought to call two interventional cardiologists as expert witnesses. The trial court allowed this, but limited one expert to liability only and the other only to causation. The Defendants all denied liability and maintained that they properly met the standard of care. At trial, the Defendants were victorious on liability which prompted the Plaintiff to appeal the final judgment based on the limitation of expert witnesses.

In upholding the verdict for the Defendants, the Fifth DCA held, “…we see no reason to permit litigants in medical malpractice cases to have an almost unfettered right to present cumulative expert witness testimony.” Applying an abuse of discretion standard, the appellate court noted black-letter Florida law that gives trial courts broad discretion in placing limitations on expert witnesses. See Lion Plumbing Supply, Inc. v. Suarez, 844 So. 2d 768, 770 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003); Elder v. Farulla, 768 So. 2d 1155 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000). The court also referenced Fla. Stat 90.612(1)(b), Fla. Stat. 90.403 and Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.200(b)(4), all of which give the trial court the duty and power to limit cumulative testimony, including that of experts, for the purposes of an expedient trial.

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In a landmark decision, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal (“Fourth DCA”) in North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan held that caps on non-economic damages in personal injury medical malpractice cases violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.

The Plaintiff,  Susan Kalitan, suffered serious injury due to medical negligence when she went in for a carpal tunnel surgery that required anesthesia. The Defendant/anesthesiologist punctured a hole in her esophagus while performing intubation. When Ms. Kalitan awoke after surgery, she complained of excruciating pain in her chest and back but the anesthesiologist failed to detect the problem. She was released from the hospital, but the next day Ms. Kalitan’s neighbor found her at home unresponsive. She was rushed back to the hospital for life-saving surgery. Ms. Kalitan spent several weeks in a drug-induced coma before having additional surgeries and intensive therapy to begin eating again and regain mobility. She presently suffers from pain in the upper half of her body and serious mental disorders as a result of this traumatic incident and loss of independence due to physical limitations.

At trial, the jury awarded Ms. Kalitan $4 million in non-economic damages, but that figure was reduced by the trial court post-verdict to $2 million under the non-economic damages caps found in Fla. Stat. 766.118. The trial court denied the Plaintiff’s arguments that the caps were unconstitutional violations of the Equal Protection Clause, her right to access the courts and her right to trial by jury.

Ms. Kalitan appealed the reduction of her jury-awarded damages to the Fourth DCA where she was victorious. Judge Forst delivered the opinion for the appellate court, wherein he carefully followed the Florida Supreme Court’s rationale in Estate of McCall v. United States, 134 So. 3d 894 (Fla. 2014). In Estate of McCall, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that caps on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases violated Florida’s Equal Protection Clause as, “the greater the number of survivors and the more devastating their losses are, the less likely they are to be fully compensated for those loses”, particularly in comparison to cases where there was only one survivor.

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Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently handed down its decision in Nucci v. Target Corp., a personal injury case wherein discovery of the plaintiff’s Facebook posts was disputed. In Nucci, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Target claiming that she suffered permanent injuries due to a slip and fall accident. During the course of discovery, Target requested copies or screenshots of all photographs that the plaintiff posted on Facebook for a period of two years before the accident through the present day. The plaintiff objected to this discovery request, arguing that it was overbroad, burdensome and that it violated the Right of Privacy contained in Art. I, §23 of the Florida Constitution. When the trial court overrued the plaintiff’s objection and ordered her to turn over the Facebook discovery to the Defendant, she appealed.

In upholding the trial court’s order compelling the plaintiff to turn over the Facebook photographs, the Fourth DCA relied on three rationales. First, it held that the plaintiff lacked sufficient grounds to be entitled to certiorari review as overbreadth of discovery alone does not constitute a basis for certiorari. Specifically, the Court held that the plaintiff did not show that there has been a “violation of clearly established principle of law resulting in a miscarriage of justice” which would have entitled her to such review. Second, the Fourth DCA noted that under Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.280 the parties are entitled to a broad scope of discovery and that pictures which individuals choose to put on Facebook and share with family and friends are highly relevant to a fact-finder in a personal injury case. As the jury is charged with the task of examining a plaintiff’s life before and after an accident and awarding damages, the Court noted, “If a photograph is worth a thousand words, there is no better portrayal of what an individual’s life was like than those photographs the individual has chosen to share through social medial before the occurrence of an accident causing injury,” and went to call the photographs “powerfully relevant.” Finally, in examining the plaintiff’s claims that these requests violated the Florida Constitution’s Right of Privacy, the Court noted that the privacy right must be balanced against the need for discovery in a personal injury case. Per the Fourth DCA, when a person chooses to post a picture on Facebook and share it with family and friends there is no real privacy expectation. Even if there is a minimal privacy right, the Court held, it is outweighed by the defendant’s legitimate interest in conducting before-and-after discovery.

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I received a call this week from a caring son who had lost his mother due to what he believed was a clear-cut case of medical negligence. Like any of us would, he wanted to hold the careless medical practitioner whose negligence killed his beloved mother accountable. He wanted to bring a Wrongful Death lawsuit to seek justice for his tragic loss.

While it broke my heart to do so, I had to inform this gentleman that in Florida he was prohibited from seeking damages for the death of his mother. That’s right: in the State of Florida, the adult children (25 and over) of a parent killed due to medical negligence are prohibited by law from bringing a Wrongful Death lawsuit against the medical practitioner whose negligence killed their parent (see Florida Statute 768.21(8)). Likewise, if an adult child (25 and over) dies due to medical malpractice and he or she has no spouse or children, the parents cannot seek compensation from the at-fault practitioner. It is what has become known in the legal field as a “free kill.”

Throughout the years I have had to explain to many people like the son who I mentioned earlier that there is no justice to be had in Florida for the families of certain medical malpractice victims. It is incomprehensible that a medical practitioner can literally kill someone and there is no justice to be had for the family who has lost a loved one.

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Welcome to the personal injury blog for The Grife Law Firm. Michael K. Grife has been fighting for the rights of injury victims in the Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Deerfield Beach, and Delray Beach areas since 2005, and he can help you through this difficult time in your life.

Mr. Grife’s practice is entirely focused on plaintiff personal injury cases. He has experience handling just about every type of personal injury claim, including:

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