In a medical malpractice case decided on September 24, 2015 by the District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida Fourth District (“Appellate Court”), the Appellate Court held that a subsequent treating physician’s testimony during a Florida medical malpractice trial was admissible because the physician was a co-treating physician (or, at a minimum, a consulting treating physician), and thus his role squarely exceeded that of a subsequent treating physician.
Florida’s Subsequent Treating Physician Rule
In Florida, a physician cannot insulate himself from liability for medical negligence by presenting a subsequent treating physician who testifies that adequate care by the defendant physician would not have altered the subsequent care because such testimony is irrelevant and inadmissible in medical malpractice actions.
Allowing such testimony in medical malpractice cases by subsequent physicians that care would not have been altered had the defendant physician exercised adequate care would alter the long-established reasonably prudent physician standard where the specific conduct of an individual doctor in a specific circumstance is evaluated. It would place a burden on the plaintiff to somehow prove causation by demonstrating that a subsequent treating physician would not have disregarded the correct diagnosis or testing, contrary to his or her testimony and irrespective of the standard of care for the defendant physician. The Appellate Court stated that to require the plaintiff to establish a negative inappropriately adds a burden of proof that simply is not required under the negligence law of Florida.
The Appellate Court held that the co-treating physician in the case it was deciding played such an influential role in the care at issue in the Florida medical malpractice case that his answers to the hypotheticals posed during his deposition before trial had bearing on his own actions as well. Thus, when the co-treating physician testified as to hypotheticals involving medical care had the patient arrived earlier at the hospital where the co-treating physician was located, he was not a subsequent treating physician testifying that adequate care by the defendant physician would not have altered the subsequent care; rather, the co-treating physician was explaining his medical decision-making process and how different decisions made by him would have impacted the patient’s neurological status and condition, and thereby affecting his decision to perform emergency surgery versus a scheduled surgery later that evening.
The Appellate Court held that while the defendant physician’s actions in this specific situation were questions of fact for the jury (i.e. whether he correctly informed the co-treating physician regarding the patient’s condition), the co-treating physician’s testimony as to what he would have done was based on his understanding of the patient’s condition at that time.
The co-treating physician had testified as to what he understood the relevant evidence of the patient’s medical condition to be, not that the care by the defendant physician would or would not have altered the co-treating physician’s treatment of the patient after her transfer to the co-treating physician’s hospital. The Appellate Court held that the co-treating physician’s testimony was properly admitted as it was based on admissible hypothetical questions from both sides, and that the trial court’s evidentiary decisions were legally correct and were not an abuse of the trial court’s sound discretion: the jury had returned a defense verdict, rejecting the plaintiffs’ theory of the case after being presented with all of the plaintiffs’ evidence and in light of evaluating the co-treating physician’s testimony as well as the testimony of numerous other medical care providers. The Appellate Court therefore affirmed the Florida medical malpractice jury’s defense verdict.
Source Cantore, et al. v. West Boca Medical Center, Inc., No. 4D13-1985.
If you or a loved one were harmed as a result of medical malpractice in Florida, you should promptly find a Florida medical malpractice lawyer who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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