Medical malpractice is an issue which arises when a doctor, a medical professional, or a healthcare organization falls below the standard of care which is required when diagnosing, treating, or managing a patient which results in injury to the patient. The deviation from the duty of care that is required for all medical professionals often stems from negligence.

Medical malpractice law allows injured patients to bring claims against negligent medical professionals or organizations. It also allows them to recover damages for the injuries or harms that were caused by substandard conduct.

Whether or not a medical professional may be held liable for injuries to a patient will depend upon the facts and circumstances of the specific case as well as the various rules and requirements of the medical malpractice laws which are enacted in the state. In some cases, the regulations and standards for medical malpractice may even vary between jurisdictions within a state.

Therefore, if an individual believes they have sustained injuries as a result of medical malpractice, they should consult a local personal injury lawyer to learn more about the relevant laws that apply in their area.

What is Medical Malpractice Liability?

Medical malpractice liability is a legal concept that refers to the individuals or organizations who can be held legally responsible for injuries a patient suffers. Generally, the liable party is the one that breached their duty of care and the individual or entity that was the actual cause of the patient’s injuries.

Determining exactly which party is liable, however, may be a challenge in some cases. This is due to the fact that medical malpractice liability typically involves multiple parties.

For example, it may be possible to divide medical malpractice liability between a doctor and the doctor’s nurse or other medical personnel when their combined negligent conduct resulted in the patient’s injury. For example, if improper instructions were provided or if one of the medical professionals failed to correct the other medical professional, there is a chance that both parties may be held liable for their mistakes.

Additionally, the organization itself, such as a hospital organization, may be held liable for medical malpractice. This applies especially in cases where the medical organization’s policies or quality of care fell below the duty of care standard for their profession.

Individuals and entities who may be held liable for medical malpractice include, but are not limited to:

  • General practitioners;
  • Nurses;
  • Hospitals;
  • Surgeons;
  • Dentists;
  • Psychiatrists;
  • Chiropractors;
  • Gynecologists; and
  • Clerical staff.

What is Medical Malpractice in Florida?

In Florida, claims for medical malpractice arise when the negligence of a healthcare professional causes injury to a patient. Typically, in a negligence case, for example, a slip and fall, a court will examine whether a reasonable person would have behaved in the same way or would have taken additional precautions to prevent injury.

In a medical malpractice case, however, Florida defines that standard of care as the “level of care, skill, and treatment which is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar healthcare providers under similar circumstances.” If a medical malpractice case goes to trial, the jury will be instructed to apply this standard of care when examining the evidence presented to determine liability.

What are the Types of Medical Malpractice Claims?

There are numerous different types of medical malpractice claims. The most common types of medical malpractice claims include:

  • Misdiagnosis: This occurs when a medical professional misdiagnosed a serious condition or disease for a less serious one and the patient is further injured due to the misdiagnosis;
    • This type of claim is often difficult to prove but is the most successful in the misdiagnosis of cancer;
  • Surgical errors: This is the most common type of medical malpractice claim. The success of a surgery is usually irrelevant and applies more to situations when there is an error such as a surgeon sewing up a patient with a sponge left inside or the improper use of anesthesia;
  • Prescription drug errors: This occurs when a side effect is known to be associated with a drug but it nonetheless improperly prescribed, for example, a pregnant woman is given a drug known to cause birth defects; and
  • Failure to treat: This occurs when there is a correct diagnosis but the health professional does not follow through on treatment. This may also occur when there is premature discharge from the hospital or a failure to perform adequate follow-up care.

What are the Time Limits for Bringing a Medical Malpractice Claim?

Yes, there are time limits for a plaintiff to bring a medical malpractice claim. In Florida, these time limits are relatively strict.

Medical malpractice actions must be brought within 2 years of the date of the incident or 2 years from when the condition was or should have been discovered. It is important to note that the statute of limitations for wrongful death is also 2 years, which runs from the date of the individual’s death.

Due to the fact that future injuries are not always discovered at the time of the negligent conduct, the effects of medical negligence may exist for many years following the actual medical treatment. Because of this, Florida enacted a statute of repose which bars any claim after 4 years, discovered or not.

It is important to note that, in Florida, there is one exception. The exception applies if there was fraud, concealment, or intentional misrepresentation on behalf of the hospital which prevented discovery.

In these types of cases, the statute of limitations is extended to a maximum of 7 years.

How is Fault Determined?

The laws which govern medical malpractice can be very complex. In Florida, the pure form of comparative negligence applies.

This means that if a plaintiff is partially at fault, their award will be reduced, but their liability will never completely bar recovery. In Florida, the worst case scenario would be that a pre-existing condition may limit the liability of the hospital, but it will not prevent an individual from winning in a lawsuit.

If multiple parties are at fault, such as a doctor, a nurse, and the hospital, and the damages in the case exceed $25,000, liability will be apportioned among the defendants. Even if the doctor was at fault, through the legal doctrine of vicarious liability, the hospital will also be held liable.

The rationale for this rule is that the hospital is in a superior position to supervise and monitor the physician performance as well as has a duty to select and retain competent physicians. Therefore, it is common for a plaintiff to sue multiple parties in order to ensure that they are adequately compensated.

There are numerous states which have passed legislation limiting, or capping, the maximum monetary award a plaintiff may collect. These laws frequently change and are often challenged as unconstitutional.

In general, Florida law states that a plaintiff cannot receive more than $500,000 in non-economic damages from a health professional.

Do I Need a Florida Lawyer?

If you or a loved one has been injured by medical malpractice, it is in your best interest to consult with a Florida personal injury attorney as soon as possible. As noted above, there are time limits on when claims can be filed, so it is important to consult with an attorney as soon as the issue is discovered.

Your attorney will advise you regarding how the laws apply to your situation and what you may be eligible to receive as compensation. In addition, your lawyer will represent you during negotiations, trials, or any other time you are required to appear in court.