Wrongful Death in Medical Malpractice: Pursuing Justice in Florida

Losing a loved one is always a painful experience, but when it happens due to medical malpractice, the anguish is compounded by an extreme sense of injustice. In Florida, wrongful death resulting from medical malpractice is a complex and emotionally charged legal matter. By understanding the legal framework, eligibility criteria, damages available, and the nuances of establishing liability, families can better navigate the legal process and seek the justice and compensation they deserve.

Florida’s Definition of Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice in Florida is governed by specific legal standards designed to hold healthcare professionals accountable for substandard care that results in harm or wrongful death.

Legal Standards for Medical Negligence in Florida

a. Duty of Care:

Healthcare providers owe patients a duty of care, a legal obligation to provide treatment consistent with the accepted standards within the medical community.

b. Breach of the Standard of Care:

The standard of care is the level of care, skill, and treatment that a reasonably prudent healthcare professional in the same field would provide under similar circumstances. Florida law emphasizes that healthcare providers are required to adhere to this standard during the course of diagnosis, treatment, and overall patient care.

c. Special Considerations in Florida:

Florida law also recognizes the role of specialists in assessing the standard of care. If the alleged negligence involves a medical specialty, the expert witness must specialize in that same area of medicine.

d. Informed Consent:

In addition to the standard of care, medical malpractice cases in Florida may involve claims related to informed consent. Patients have the right to be adequately informed about the risks, benefits, and alternatives of a medical procedure.

e. Statute of Limitations:

Florida imposes a statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims. Generally, a lawsuit must be filed within two years of the incident or within two years of the discovery of the harm, whichever occurs later.

Establishing a Breach of the Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice Cases

a. Medical Expert Testimony:

Plaintiff’s attorneys in medical malpractice cases typically consult with qualified medical experts who can testify regarding the standard of care applicable to the specific situation.

b. Review of Medical Records:

Attorneys, alongside medical experts, meticulously review the patient’s medical records to identify deviations from the standard of care.

c. Comparison with Accepted Practices:

The expert witness compares the actions of the healthcare provider with the generally accepted practices within the medical community.

d. Causation Link:

Establishing a breach of the standard of care is not sufficient; it must be demonstrated that the breach directly caused the patient’s harm or death.

e. Documentation and Evidence:

Thorough documentation and presentation of evidence are crucial to building a compelling case, showcasing the departure from the standard of care and its consequences.

Distinguishing Medical Malpractice from General Wrongful Death Cases

Professional Negligence in Healthcare

  • Medical malpractice involves the failure of a healthcare professional to provide a standard level of care, resulting in harm or death.
  • It differs from general wrongful death, which may arise from various circumstances like accidents, product defects, or premises liability.

Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice

  • Medical malpractice hinges on whether the healthcare provider deviated from the standard of care expected within their profession.
  • General wrongful death cases may involve different standards, such as establishing negligence or intentional harm.

Causation Challenges

  • Establishing a direct link between medical negligence and the subsequent death can be more complex than in general wrongful death cases.

Common Scenarios in Which Medical Malpractice Leads to Wrongful Death

a. Surgical Errors:

Wrongful death may occur due to surgical errors, such as anesthesia complications, organ damage, or infections resulting from surgery.

b. Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis:

When medical professionals fail to diagnose or timely diagnose a serious condition, leading to a worsened prognosis and eventual death.

c. Medication Errors:

Administering incorrect medications, improper dosages, or neglecting to consider potential drug interactions can result in fatal consequences.

d. Birth Injuries:

Negligence during childbirth, including improper handling of complications, can lead to injuries that result in the wrongful death of the mother or child.

e. Failure to Monitor:

Inadequate monitoring of a patient’s condition, especially in critical situations, can contribute to a wrongful death scenario.

f. Negligent Supervision or Training:

Deaths may occur when healthcare professionals, including nurses or support staff, lack proper supervision or training.

Qualifications and Selection of Expert Witnesses in Medical Malpractice Trials

a. Credentials and Specialization:

The qualifications of expert witnesses are crucial. Courts typically require experts to have relevant credentials, specialization in the area of the alleged malpractice, and sufficient experience in their field.

b. Impartiality and Objectivity:

An effective expert witness must maintain impartiality and objectivity. The credibility of the expert can significantly impact the weight assigned to their testimony.

c. Communication Skills:

The ability of an expert witness to communicate complex medical concepts in a clear and understandable manner is essential. A skilled communicator can make the case more accessible to the jury.

d. Legal Experience:

Some experts may have experience providing testimony in legal settings, understanding the nuances of presenting evidence in a courtroom.

How Comparative Fault Impacts Medical Malpractice Cases in Florida

Florida now follows a modified comparative fault system, allowing plaintiffs to recover damages if they are up to 50% at fault. With that said, if a jury finds a plaintiff to be more than 50% at fault for the injury under consideration, they are not eligible to recover damages.

Application to Medical Malpractice

Comparative fault may be invoked in medical malpractice cases if there are allegations that the patient or another party contributed to the harm or wrongful death.

Reduction of Damages

If the plaintiff is found partially at fault, their damages award will be reduced proportionally to their percentage of fault. For instance, if the plaintiff is deemed 20% at fault, their damages will be reduced by 20%.

Impact on Settlements and Judgments

The concept of comparative fault can influence settlement negotiations, as both parties assess the potential impact of fault allocation on the final damages award.

Allocating Responsibility Between Healthcare Professionals and Other Parties

a. Healthcare Provider’s Negligence:

The primary focus in medical malpractice cases is often on the alleged negligence of healthcare professionals. The plaintiff must establish that the healthcare provider breached the standard of care, leading to harm or wrongful death.

b. Patient’s Contributory Negligence:

Defendants may argue that the patient’s actions or decisions contributed to the harm. For example, if a patient fails to follow prescribed treatment or provides inaccurate medical history, it may be asserted as contributory negligence.

c. Third-Party Involvement:

In some cases, third parties such as pharmaceutical companies or medical device manufacturers may be implicated. Comparative fault principles can be applied to allocate responsibility among multiple defendants.

d. Proving Negligence vs. Patient’s Contributory Actions:

Plaintiffs must distinguish between the alleged negligence of healthcare professionals and any contributory actions by the patient. Expert testimony and comprehensive evidence play a crucial role in establishing and refuting these claims.

e. Determining Percentage of Fault:

The allocation of fault is typically determined by the trier of fact, which can be a judge or jury. They assess the evidence presented and assign percentages of fault to each party involved.

Get a Skilled and Resourceful Florida Medical Malpractice Lawyer on Your Side

If you have suffered injuries and complications or lost a loved one due to medical negligence of a healthcare provider or hospital, you may be entitled to claim financial compensation for your injuries and losses. Consult with Florida’s highly rated medical malpractice and wrongful death attorney Robert W. Rust, Esq. of Rust Injury Law to discuss a compelling legal strategy. Call us today at 305-200-8856 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.