There’s a reason professionals who work in fields such as medicine, law, and accounting have to complete years of specialized training: these are the people who can affect our health and finances based on how well they perform their job. They have a duty of care to their patients and clients, and they’re expected to do everything that a professional in their position reasonably could to ensure their patients’ or clients’ well-being.
Because of this, we generally think we’re in good hands when dealing with a doctor, lawyer, or accountant, and have respect for their authority. So it can be quite shocking when something goes wrong and we realize that a professional has not lived up to their field’s standard of care. It’s more than just a betrayal of trust – it’s something that could potentially affect your health, happiness, and financial standing for the rest of your life.
For many professional malpractice victims, the only recourse to recovering damages for things such as medical bills or long-term care is to file a lawsuit. As long as you can prove that a professional breached their duty of care and tangibly caused you harm as a result, you should be eligible for monetary compensation. Just last year, our country saw $3.6 billion in medical malpractice payouts alone, with $203.7 million of those payouts occurring in Florida. While this money can’t undo the damage that’s already been done, it can help victims and their families get back on their feet. For those who have been harmed by a professional’s negligence, filing a lawsuit may be the best thing they can do.
But how do you know when a professional is actually liable for malpractice? If you’re going to sue for malpractice, you have to be sure you have a strong case, because the defendant is risking a major financial loss and is going to retain the best lawyer they can to fight back.
In order to help you figure out if you have a case, we here at Lawlor Winston White & Murphey decided to describe some of the situations when a professional may be held liable. Keep in mind that this is just an overview, and the best thing you can do if you think you have a case is to talk to an injury attorney in your area.
Who can be liable? Doctors, nurses, hospitals, or any other health care providers.
When is a health care professional liable? Your health care professional is not necessarily liable just because you don’t approve of the treatment they prescribed. In fact, they’re not even necessarily negligent just because they made a mistake. If you file a medical malpractice lawsuit, you have to prove that the medical professional was negligent in treating you, and that their treatment led to injury and specific damages.
Common reasons for medical malpractice lawsuits:
• Delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis (patient must prove that it is reasonably likely another doctor with the same specialty would not have made this error)
• Incorrectly written or administered prescription
• Negligent prenatal care or negligence during childbirth (e.g. failure to anticipate birth complications that a typical physician would have anticipated)
• Anesthesia errors (e.g. administering too much anesthesia)
• Surgical errors (e.g. puncturing an internal organ)
What you should know about medical malpractice in Florida: In March 2014, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the malpractice cap that limited malpractice victims to recovering a maximum of $1 million in noneconomic damages. There is currently no upper limit for compensation, but a claimant must be able to prove that the negligence of their health care provider caused a specific monetary amount of damages. Claimants must also file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations.
Who can be liable? An attorney in any area of the law retained by the claimant.
When is an attorney liable? An attorney is not necessarily liable just because they lost your case. To prove that they’re liable, you have to be able to show that they breached their duty to you in a way that no reasonable lawyer would have and that this breach cost you money.
Common reasons for legal malpractice lawsuits:
• Failure to know/apply the law
• Failure to know deadlines
• Failure to file documents
• Failure to obtain client’s consent or inform client
• Inadequate investigation or inadequate discovery of facts
• Planning or strategy error
• Libel or slander
What you should know about legal malpractice in Florida: As with medical malpractice, there is a strict statute of limitations for filing a legal malpractice lawsuit. If you decide to file a lawsuit, you should work with an attorney who has specific experience handling legal malpractice cases in Florida.
Who can be liable? Any accountant hired by the claimant to prepare financial statements or tax returns.
When is an accountant liable? As with other instances of professional malpractice, an accountant is only liable when a claimant can prove that the accountant breached a duty of care they had to the client, resulting in a financial loss.
Common reasons for legal malpractice lawsuits:
• Failure to provide accurate tax advice (when another reasonable accountant would have been able to provide accurate tax advice)
• Failure to properly audit financial statements
• Deliberately providing misinformation about internal financial audits
• Committing fraud, such as lying about having a CPA license
• Manipulating financial statements to inflate share value or equity
What you should know about accounting malpractice in Florida: Accounting malpractice cases are extremely complex because they often hinge on technical rules and accounting standards, so it’s imperative that you choose an attorney who understands and has experience in this branch of law.
Still Not Sure If You Have a Case?
If you’re still unsure whether a professional you worked with is liable for negligence, you should talk with an attorney as soon as possible. A malpractice attorney will look at the details of your case and help you gather concrete evidence, whether that means hospital records, tax returns, or any other documents, in order to prove that you’re entitled to compensation.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphey. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”