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Florida Supreme Court Rules on Medical Malpractice vs. Basic Negligence

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An incident involving the restraint of a patient at the now defunct National Academy of the Deaf has resulted in the legal need to differentiate between cases of medical negligence versus cases where medical staff may be involved but the action or omission is only simple negligence. The distinction is important because simple negligence cases are easier and typically not as challenging or costly to litigate.

A pair of conflicting decisions led to the Supreme Court weighing in on the issue.

The most recent decision involved the physical restraint of a deaf child who had been diagnosed with psychiatric conditions. An earlier decision involved a staff member at a psychiatric hospital who left their key and badge where a patient could access them. The former was deemed simple negligence while the latter was determined to be medical negligence.

The Supreme Court’s decision would treat both incidences as simple negligence as opposed to medical negligence.

Negligence vs. Medical Negligence 

In Florida, there are a number of barriers to pursuing a medical malpractice case against a doctor or hospital. Those barriers include, but are not limited to, the need to hire medical experts and intensive and costly pre-suit investigations.  However, not all adverse medical results rise to the standard of medical negligence. In the case involving the deaf child, lawyers for the defense sought to force the plaintiffs to pursue their claims on the grounds of medical negligence.

The Supreme Court, however, disagreed with their reasoning.

Medical Negligence or Not? 

In the case of the deaf child, the question as to whether or not the case involved medical negligence or simple negligence is a bit blurry. The patient became agitated and began throwing rocks at windows and at staff. Staff attempted to restrain her, but during the altercation a staff member fell on the patient’s knee, dislocating it. For some reason, it had to be amputated.

Her doctor had outlined a plan to manage the patient’s symptoms should they flare up. This involved the implementation of the TACT system which stands for Therapeutic Aggression Control Techniques. The defense argued that because this was part of the patient’s treatment protocol, the lawsuit should be considered medical malpractice and not simple negligence.

Assuming that TACT does not involve compulsory amputation of the limbs of potentially violent patients, this argument might have some merit. But the question is whether or not the negligence in question requires the exercise of medical or professional judgment. Since restraining a patient does not involve any form of medical care or medical services, the court decided in favor of the plaintiffs.

What Makes Something Medical Negligence? 

Medical negligence must involve a healthcare provider, which includes a number of healthcare professions that are identified in Florida law.  In addition, the action or omission must be directly related to the improper application of medical services and the use of professional judgment or skill.  This occurs when a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, nurse, or hospital fails to uphold the standard of care for reasonably prudent and similarly situated health care providers. As this case shows, it must involve a breach of the standard of care when a health care provider is exercising their professional or medical judgment. This means that plaintiffs won’t be forced to sue on the grounds of medical negligence simply because they slipped on a wet floor in a doctor’s office. It also makes pursuing these cases less challenging or costly for plaintiffs by allowing them to file a simple negligence claim, as opposed to a medical negligence claim.

Have You Been Injured by Medical Negligence? 

If so, you should contact the skilled medical malpractice attorneys at Tampa Bay’s Masterson, Hoag, & Smith, P.A. You can give us a call at 727-325-2696 or contact us online and we’ll begin discussing your case immediately.

Resources:

legalnewsline.com/stories/511413624-in-florida-ruling-says-restraint-of-deaf-resident-was-not-medical-malpractice

law.com/dailybusinessreview/2018/04/27/state-supreme-court-tries-to-draw-line-on-malpractice-cases/?slreturn=20180502212713

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