Florida Supreme Court Discusses What Is, And Is Not, A Medical Malpractice Claim

The Supreme Court of Florida (“Florida Supreme Court”) held in its opinion filed on April 26, 2018: “In accordance with the Legislature’s definition of medical malpractice and this Court’s relevant case law, we hold that for a claim to sound in medical malpractice, the act from which the claim arises must be directly related to medical care or services, which require the use of professional judgment or skill.”

The issue was important to the plaintiff because when a negligence claim arises out of the “rendering of, or the failure to render, medical care or services,” as the Legislature’s definition of medical malpractice provides, a plaintiff is subjected to the onerous presuit requirements and restrictions of the Florida medical malpractice statutory scheme. § 766.106(1)(a), Fla. Stat. (2008). Also, Florida medical malpractice claims have a shorter statute of limitations than ordinary negligence claims—two years versus four years, respectively. § 95.11(3)(a), (4)(b), Fla. Stat. (2008).

In the case the Florida Supreme Court was deciding, the lower appellate court had held that a claim arising out of the alleged negligence by employees of the National Deaf Academy in attempting to physically restrain one of its residents, which resulted in injury to the resident, sounded in ordinary negligence, reasoning that the employees’ actions were “not for treatment or diagnosis of any condition,” were not intended “to meet [the resident’s] daily needs during care, and did not require medical skill or judgment.” However, a different lower appellate court had held in another case that a claim arising out of a psychiatric hospital employee leaving her keys and badge unattended, which resulted in a patient’s death, sounded in medical malpractice. Therefore, the Florida Supreme Court had to resolve the conflict between the two lower appellate courts’ decisions.

Florida Supreme Court Opinion

The Florida Legislature has defined a claim for medical negligence or medical malpractice as “a claim, arising out of the rendering of, or the failure to render, medical care or services.” § 766.106(1)(a), Fla. Stat. (2008). The Florida Legislature has further provided that proving a medical malpractice claim requires establishing that the allegedly negligent act “represented a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care,” as testified to by a qualified medical expert. § 766.102(1); § 766.102(5).

The inquiry for determining whether a claim sounds in medical malpractice is twofold: (1) whether the action arose out of “medical . . . diagnosis, treatment, or care,” and (2) whether such diagnosis, treatment, or care was rendered by a “provider of health care.” Additionally, the words “diagnosis,” “treatment,” and “care” should be accorded their plain and unambiguous meaning” in ordinary, common parlance, the average person would understand “diagnosis, treatment, or care” to mean ascertaining a patient’s medical condition through examination and testing, prescribing and administering a course of action to effect a cure, and meeting the patient’s daily needs during the illness.

Moreover, in order to determine whether the presuit requirements of chapter 766 apply, the court looks to whether the plaintiff must rely upon the medical negligence standard of care as set forth in section 766.102(1). Merely because a wrongful act occurs in a medical setting does not necessarily mean that it involves medical malpractice.

The Florida Supreme Court stated that the specific facts in the case it was deciding involve the alleged negligent administration of a method of physical restraint, which is performed for the safety of both the resident and others, and can be performed by nonmedical personnel.

The Florida Supreme Court stated that because of the statutory restrictions and requirements that apply only to medical malpractice claims, any “doubt” as to whether a claim is for ordinary negligence or medical malpractice should be generally resolved in favor of the claimant.

The Florida Supreme Court held: “we hold that for a claim to sound in medical malpractice, the act from which the claim arises must be directly related to medical care or services, which require the use of professional judgment or skill. This inquiry involves determining whether proving the claim requires the plaintiff to establish that the allegedly negligent act ‘represented a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care,’ as testified to by a qualified medical expert. Our holding will allow ordinary negligence cases to proceed without requiring the plaintiff to obtain a presuit corroborating expert and follow the additional matrix of presuit procedures, while still advancing the Legislature’s policy goals of encouraging the early settlement of meritorious and screening out frivolous medical malpractice claims … only claims that arise out of an action or inaction directly related to medical care or services, which require the use of professional judgment or skill, sound in medical malpractice.”

The Florida Supreme Court stated that in the present case, it cannot be said that when the National Deaf Academy staff administered the TACT hold (Therapeutic Aggression Control Techniques, which involves staff members physically restraining the resident) on the plaintiff in an attempt to stop her from throwing rocks at staff and pulling on lightning rods, they were ascertaining the plaintiff’s medical condition through examination and testing, prescribing and administering a course of action to effect a cure, or meeting the plaintiff’s daily needs. The Florida Supreme Court stated that the gravamen of the plaintiff’s claim is that the National Deaf Academy, by and through its employees, negligently administered the TACT hold that led to the plaintiff’s injuries. Proving that claim will not require testimony from a medical expert on the professional standard of care. Therefore, because the plaintiff’s claim does not arise out of an act that is directly related to medical care or services, which require the use of professional judgment or skill, the lower appellate court properly concluded that her claim does not allege medical malpractice, but ordinary negligence.

The Florida Supreme Court concluded: “Limiting medical malpractice claims to those that are directly related to medical care or services, which require the use of professional judgment or skill, ensures that plaintiffs bringing claims of ordinary negligence are not subjected to the complex presuit procedures for medical malpractice claims, while still advancing the Legislature’s policy goals of encouraging early settlement and screening out frivolous medical malpractice claims. In this case, because the administration of a TACT hold was not directly related to medical care or services, which require the use of professional judgment or skill, Townes’s claim does not arise from medical malpractice, and her lawsuit is not barred by the two-year statute of limitations or her failure to comply with the presuit requirements set forth in chapter 766. For the same reasons, a claim arising out of a hospital employee leaving her keys and badge where a patient can access them does not sound in medical malpractice.”

Source The National Deaf Academy, LLC v. Townes, No. SC16-1587.

If you have been injured as a result of medical negligence in Florida or in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with a Florida medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

Click here to visit our website or telephone us on our toll-free line in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your U.S. state who may assist you with your medical malpractice claim.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 8th, 2018 at 5:20 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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