Florida Appellate Court Reverses Medical Malpractice Defense Verdict Due To Defective Verdict Form

The District Court of Appeal of Florida Second District (“Florida Appellate Court”) held in its opinion dated July 17, 2020, “While our review of the record has determined that the jury instructions were proper, we agree with Haynes that the verdict form was legally insufficient to permit the jury to return a verdict on each of the independent claims before it. Therefore, we reverse and remand for a new trial.”

The Underlying Facts

Haynes was a patient of Dr. Blackshear, a vascular surgeon, and she suffered from high blood pressure. In an effort to determine the cause of Haynes’ high blood pressure, Blackshear recommended a series of increasingly invasive diagnostic tests, one of which was a renal vein renin test. Haynes somewhat reluctantly underwent the renal vein renin test, a number of complications ensued, and Haynes ultimately was left with only one functioning kidney. As a result, Haynes filed a multi-count Florida medical malpractice action against Blackshear.

In her second amended complaint, Haynes alleged in count one that Blackshear provided negligent care and treatment by, among other things, performing unnecessary tests and procedures, negligently performing an unnecessary angioplasty, failing to advise Haynes of the known risks of the tests and procedures Blackshear recommended, and failing to properly identify and treat her blocked right renal artery, all of which resulted in injury and damages. In count four of the second amended complaint, Haynes alleged that Blackshear violated section 766.111, Florida Statutes (2009), by ordering and performing the unnecessary renal vein renin test.

The Florida Appellate Court stated, “During pretrial proceedings, all parties understood that Haynes’ claim under section 766.111 was based on Blackshear’s decision to order and perform the allegedly unnecessary renal vein renin test, which claim was separate and distinct from the general medical negligence claim Haynes alleged in count one, which related primarily—but not exclusively—to the post-procedure management of the complications she suffered. All parties also understood that the only statutory basis for an award of attorney’s fees in favor of Haynes would arise if she proved her claim under section 766.111; a jury verdict of general negligence would not entitle her to an award of attorney’s fees and costs.”

The trial court’s jury instructions “clearly sets forth two independent bases for liability: one if Blackshear ordered, procured, or performed an unnecessary diagnostic test that resulted in injury or damage to Haynes and another if Blackshear provided negligent care and treatment to Haynes that resulted in injury or damage.” Nonetheless, the trial court’s verdict form included only one question: “Was there negligence on the part of Defendant, WILLIAM BLACKSHEAR, MD and did WILLIAM BLACKSHEAR, MD order unnecessary diagnostic tests, which were not reasonably calculated to assist the health care provider in arriving at a diagnosis and treatment of BETTY JEAN HAYNES’ medical condition, which were a legal cause of injury or damage to Plaintiff, BETTY JEAN HAYNES?”

Haynes objected to this verdict form, pointing out that, as written, it would require Haynes to prove both of her claims in order to prevail on either one, which was improper. Nevertheless, the trial court overruled Haynes’ objection and used its own verdict form. The jury subsequently returned a verdict in favor of Blackshear, which Haynes appealed.

Florida Appellate Court Opinion

The Florida Appellate Court stated, “the language of section 766.111 clearly evinces an intent on the part of the legislature to permit a patient to bring an action against a health care provider based on a violation of the health care provider’s statutory obligation not to order, procure, provide, or administer a diagnostic test that was not reasonably calculated to assist the health care provider in arriving at a diagnosis and treatment of the patient’s condition and was therefore unnecessary … a health care provider who fails to order, perform, or administer a diagnostic test will not be liable for that failure as long as he or she acted in good faith; however, a health care provider who orders an unnecessary diagnostic test may be liable to the patient for injuries that result, as well as attorney’s fees and costs. In short, a health care provider’s good faith decision concerning diagnostic testing will be insulated while a decision to authorize an unnecessary diagnostic test will subject the health care provider to liability.” (emphasis added)

The Florida Appellate Court held, “if the plaintiff proves that he or she suffered an injury as a result of the unnecessary test, the plaintiff may recover, in addition to those damages suffered as a result of that unnecessary test, his or her attorney’s fees under section 766.111(3). Thus, the answer to the first question is yes—section 766.111 creates an independent cause of action that a patient may bring against a health care provider who violates the statutory standard by ordering, procuring, providing, or administering an unnecessary diagnostic test.”

The Florida Appellate Court stated that Haynes “presented at least some evidence that she suffered an injury as a result of the allegedly unnecessary renal vein renin test, as well as injuries due to allegedly negligent treatment of her complications from that procedure. Because each of these claims was cognizable independently of the other, Haynes was entitled to pursue each independently of the other, she was entitled to have the jury instructed on each claim, and she was entitled to a verdict form that allowed the jury to return a separate verdict on each independent claim. To conclude otherwise would vitiate Haynes’ right to pursue both a medical malpractice claim and the statutory claim under section 766.111 independently of each other.”

The Florida Appellate Court held: “While the jury instructions properly explained the two independent claims, the verdict form prepared by the trial court did not permit the jury to return a verdict on each of Haynes’ claims. This was error. When a plaintiff presents two separate and independent theories of liability, the plaintiff is entitled not only to jury instructions on those different theories but also to a verdict form that permits the jury to return a verdict on each of the independent claims … the verdict form conflated Haynes’ two independent claims into one and gave the jury the option of answering only yes or no to a single question … In essence, Haynes’ two independent claims were improperly merged into one all-or-nothing verdict. By providing the jury with a verdict form that did not allow it to consider Haynes’ claims independently, the trial court prevented the jury from being able to return a verdict on each of Haynes’ claims—an error that requires reversal and remand for a new trial.”

The Florida Appellate Court concluded: “In sum, we hold that section 766.111 permits a patient to bring a claim against a health care provider who orders, procures, provides, or administers an unnecessary diagnostic test when the performance or administration of that test results in injury or damage to the patient. When such facts exist, the injured patient may bring an action against the health care provider under section 766.111 independently of any claim for any other medical malpractice. Haynes did so, and she was entitled to have the jury return a verdict on each claim independently of the other. By utilizing a verdict form that prevented the jury from considering Haynes’ claims independently of each other, the trial court erred. Accordingly, we reverse the final judgment in favor of Blackshear and remand for a new trial.”

Source Haynes v. Blackshear, Case No. 2D18-4649.

If you or a loved one have suffered serious harm as a result of medical negligence in Florida or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find 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 or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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This entry was posted on Friday, September 25th, 2020 at 5:22 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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