Injuries that occur in hospitals are mostly matters of medical malpractice, meaning they stem from substandard care provided by medical professionals. However, some hospital injuries are the result of general negligence (often due to unsafe conditions on the premises). Although hospitals are providers of care, they are also owners of property, with a duty of reasonable care under premises liability law to the general public who enter.
This distinction is clear in some cases. For example, a visitor slips-and-falls in a just-mopped hospital lobby that isn’t marked with a sign. Clearly, that incident isn’t a matter of medical malpractice; the visitor wasn’t even being treated. However, when it comes to patients – current, prospective or leaving – the waters can get muddied.
It’s an important distinction to make because the proof burden for these two types of cases is very different. For general negligence cases, one must simply prove defendant owed a duty of care, that duty was breached and the breach resulted in an accident that caused injuries. However, Florida medical malpractice cases, per F.S. 766.102, require claimants to prove by the greater weight of evidence that alleged actions of health care provider(s) breached the prevailing professional standard of care for that health provider. This considers whether the level of care, skill and treatment in light of all surrounding circumstances is deemed acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers. In order to do this, one must present a qualified expert medical witness testimony – and that’s long before one ever gets to the trial phase. There is also the matter of the statute of limitations (the time in which one has to file a case). In Florida, general negligence claims can be filed within four years. Medical malpractice claims have to be filed within two years. Continue reading