A common legal issue that arises in the context of imprisonment or other forms of detention is liability for failing to provide or negligently providing medical care to those detained. Irrespective of the location of medical malpractice, however, common evidentiary standards required for medical malpractice actions apply. These issues are at the core of the Southern District of Florida’s recent decision in Segundo v. United States, which involves claims alleging negligence on the part of the medical staff leading to the cardiac death of a detainee at Krome Detention Center in South Florida.
The detainee had been transferred to Krome Detention Center in 2010, and his Transfer Summary noted his severe, preexisting diabetes. At the time of booking, the detainee underwent a medical evaluation that corroborated this prior medical history of diabetes. Following admission, the detainee continued to take oral diabetic medications, and his blood glucose level was checked twice a day. The admission medical evaluation also included a screening EKG, the results of which came back normal and did not indicate any acute or chronic myocardial ischemic changes or other findings associated with coronary artery disease. From the time of his arrival until the day before his death, the detainee did not complain of chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, or other symptoms associated with cardiac dysfunction.
However, the day before his death, Krome medical staff evaluated the detainee for a sore throat, runny nose, and cough. The day after, the detainee stated he felt ill but was nonetheless communicative and able to move. While staff was taking the detainee to the Urgent Care Center at the Krome compound, he suffered an arrhythmia and died. A autopsy report found the detainee’s cause of death to be severe atheroscleros in the left anterior descending coronary artery. Given the normal EKG just days before the death, no evidence in the record suggested that medical staff at Krome should have predicted the subsequent cardiac death. Following the detainee’s death, the personal representative for his estate brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the United States under the Federal Torts Claims Act, alleging negligence on the part of Krome’s officers, agents, and employees.
When a claim is brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the substantive law of the state where the alleged tort occurred applies. Accordingly, the substantive law of Florida applies for purposes of determining liability in this case. To succeed on a claim for medical malpractice under Florida law, one must identify the provider’s standard of care, produce evidence that the provider breached the duty to render medical care in accordance with that standard, and establish that the breach proximately caused the injury. Moisan v. Frank K. Kriz, Jr., MD., P.A., 531 So.2d 398, 399 (2nd DCA 1988). In order to prove the elements of the claim, one must provide medical or other expert testimony to establish that the alleged negligence caused the complained-of injury. Lambert v. United States, 198 Fed. Appx. 835, 839 (11th Cir. 2006); Torres v. Sullivan, 903 So.2d 1064 (2nd DCA 2005).
In this case, the court found that the plaintiff failed to provide any medical or other expert testimony sufficient to maintain a claim of medical malpractice. In fact, the plaintiff failed to even disclose the existence of an expert that would corroborate the claims of medical negligence, as required by Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See F.R.C.P. 26(a)(2)(C). Since the plaintiff failed to proffer evidence showing a deviation from the requisite standard of medical care, it followed that the plaintiff could not succeed on his medical malpractice claim. Accordingly, finding no issue of material fact with respect to the alleged claims of medical malpractice, the district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
As this case demonstrates, a plaintiff asserting a claim for medical malpractice has a heavy evidentiary burden to meet. Indeed, expert testimony is not just useful for proving negligence in this context, but a requirement for successfully proving the elements of the claim. Accordingly, a person injured as a result of possible medical negligence should consult experienced counsel in order to obtain timely and effective legal advice and assure he or she has compiled evidence sufficient to obtain the recovery to which he or she may be entitled. The South Florida injury attorneys at Frankl & Kominsky have many years of experience litigating medical malpractice in both state and federal court and can offer you the legal assistance you may need. If you have been injured in a possible case of medical malpractice or suffered some other form of injury, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.