In Florida, medical malpractice law is complex. Even defining the term requires some explanation. When it comes to the negligence of healthcare providers, the Sunshine State has many unique laws and procedures. Not every poor medical outcome or injury at a hospital qualifies as medical malpractice in Florida. Sometimes there are barriers preventing viable claims even when the evidence strongly supports allegations of medical negligence. This is why it’s so important to work with an experienced attorney.
To ascertain whether an injury qualifies, our Palm Beach medical malpractice lawyers typically start by carefully considering the following:
- Whether the healthcare professional had an established caregiver-patient relationship with the plaintiff.
- Whether the healthcare professional’s actions – or inaction – caused harm or injury to the plaintiff.
- How likely it is that there is some other cause of the plaintiff’s harm or injury.
- Whether those actions fell below the applicable standard of care for someone in their position (considering education, experience, facility, region, etc.).
- How long ago the healthcare’s alleged negligence took place, as well as when the harm/injury was discovered.
- If the patient died as a result of the alleged medical malpractice, did they have a surviving spouse OR children under the age of 25 at the time of the incident?
Remember: The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, or the one who is filing the case. And there is a rigorous process with medical malpractice claims just to get past the preliminary stages of a lawsuit. Working with an experienced Palm Beach medical malpractice lawyer is critical.
What Exactly is Medical Malpractice?
Florida medical malpractice laws are outlined in 766.101 to 766.203. Medical malpractice is generally understood as subpar treatment provided by a doctor, surgeon, nurse, or other healthcare provider that results in significant harm or injury to the patient.
Not every mistake made by healthcare workers is considered medical malpractice. Not every poor health outcome – even horrible ones – is medical malpractice. The first question is, “What was the applicable standard of care?”
For that, we have to turn to at least one other healthcare professional with similar education and experience as the defendant. Florida law requires all medical malpractice lawsuits start with a sworn affidavit from an expert witness attesting that the defendant’s conduct breached the standard of care. In other words, your expert witness asserts that the defendant’s level of care fell short of what it should have been, given their experience, resources, expertise, and the circumstances. This affidavit must be reviewed by a judge before the case can go any further.
All healthcare providers owe a basic duty of care to their patients. But that level of duty doesn’t look the same for all providers. An emergency room doctor in a rural area isn’t going to be held to the exact same standard as one in a large teaching hospital with ample resources. A nurse won’t be held to the same standard as a surgeon. An family practice physician isn’t going to be held to the same standard as a neurosurgeon.
Establishing Proximate Cause
For a Florida medical malpractice claim to be successful, we must also establish proximate cause. This is a key component of proving negligence.
Proving proximate cause means that we can show that the defendant provider’s negligence was the direct cause of the patient’s harm.
For example, just because a doctor misdiagnosed you doesn’t mean they are liable for your condition. But if they misdiagnosed you when there was ample evidence of the correct diagnosis AND their lack of reasonable care led to your condition getting considerably worse, then you might have a case for medical malpractice.
How Much Time Has Passed?
For the most part, all Florida medical malpractice claims must be filed within two years of the incident.
There are only a couple of exceptions. Mostly, those deal with situations where the error was not known and could not reasonably have been discovered for some time – particularly if there was an intentional effort to cover it up. In those cases, the 2-year statute of limitations may be “tolled” for a period of time. But that’s pretty rare.
Also before you can file your claim, you must file a pre-suit notice with the healthcare provider, outlining your intention to file a lawsuit. They have 90 days to investigate – and potentially try to resolve – your claim out-of-court. If you cannot reach an agreement (as is usually the case), you’re free to file a lawsuit.
If you have questions about filing a medical malpractice claim in South Florida, we can help.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
MEDICAL MALPRACTICE LITIGATION: HOW IT WORKS, WHY TORT REFORM HASN’T HELPED, Oct. 2021, Florida Bar Journal
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Widow Awarded $20 Million in Palm Beach Medical Malpractice Lawsuit, Oct. 22, 2023, West Palm Beach Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog