Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional’s mistake injures a patient.
But not all injuries caused by doctors, nurses, surgeons, or other medical professionals constitute a malpractice claim.
The only way to know for sure if you have a legitimate knowledgeable personal injury attorney. Your lawyer will examine the facts surrounding your case, and inform you whether your case merits a claim.
However, we are going to provide a brief overview of the elements of a malpractice claim in Florida. Since every state has their own unique laws governing injury cases brought against medical care providers, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the specific laws of Florida to prepare your case.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Most medical malpractice claims assert that a healthcare professional is guilty of negligence. This means that the provider failed to meet the standard of care that could be expected of him or her when treating a patient.
Standard of Care. This refers to the level of care, skill, and discretion that is generally expected of professionals in a field. In medicine, this means that a medical provider made a poor choice or mistake while treating a person—an error that a competent and attentive provider would not have made.
Of course, evaluating whether a mistake is due to the incompetence or careless of a medical provider is complicated. Not all misfortune in medicine is the fault of a health care professional.
For example, if a patient dies under the treatment of a doctor, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the doctor was negligent. The patient may have had a low chance of survival under any doctor, or the death could be the result of an unexpected reaction to a treatment any doctor would have suggested.
Causation. It’s also important to note that a successful malpractice claim must prove that the negligence of the doctor was the reason for the injury of the patient.
For example, if you go to one doctor for an illness and he or she says you are fine, you might be inclined to seek a second opinion. You might go to a second doctor who correctly diagnoses and treats your illness. The first doctor, in this case, is not guilty of malpractice, since no harm came to you from being misdiagnosed.
Thus, to find a medical professional guilty of malpractice, it must be proved that the injury or death of a patient was directly caused by the incompetence or carelessness of that provider.
Statute of Limitations and Limits on Damage Awards
It’s also important to understand certain limitations that are applied to medical malpractice cases under Florida law. These limits dictate the deadlines for filing your malpractice claim, as well as how much you can receive for a successful lawsuit.
Statute of Limitations. A “statute of limitations” is a deadline for filing claims that is established by the law. In Florida, you must file your case within two years of discovering the injury, or when the court believes you should have found the injury. At the latest, a case may be filed four years from when the malpractice occurred.
This means if four years have passed since the incident that caused your injury, you cannot make a claim against a medical provider. This is true even if you did not discover the injury until four years have passed.
There is an exception to the statute of limitations. If a provider deliberately deceived you in order to prevent you from discovering malpractice injuries—known as fraudulent concealment—a case could be brought against them up to seven years after treatment.
Limits on Awards. Florida also places limits on the amount of money you can receive in a malpractice suit in certain situations. These limits are called “caps.”
These laws don’t place limits on economic damages, like lost wages or remedial medical treatment costs. Instead, they regulate the amount of money you can be awarded for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
There is a $500,000 dollar cap on non-economic awards if the case is brought against a “medical practitioner” (meaning a single doctor or other specific medical professional). This limit is $750,000 if it is brought against “non-practicioners” (i.e. corporate health care entities).
There are a number of exceptions to this, however. For example, this cap goes up to $1,000,000 if the alleged malpractice resulted in death or a vegetative state. A more extensive look at Florida’s damage caps can be found here.
The bottom line is this: medical malpractice cases are complicated. If you believe you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, your best bet at getting fair and just compensation is to work with a skilled personal injury attorney.
About the Author:
Since 1994, seasoned litigation and trial lawyer Anthony B. White has helped thousands of accident victims seek damages due to injuries sustained as a result of another party’s negligence. Included in America’s Registry of Outstanding Professionals and selected to the 2012, 2013, and 2014 editions of Florida Super Lawyers, Mr. White specializes in car accidents, insurance disputes, wrongful death, product liability, and medical malpractice cases. He is a longstanding member of the Florida Justice Association and the American Association for Justice and currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Broward County Justice Association.