Given that the Florida law imposes specific evidentiary standards, pre-suit filing requirements, and other obligations on medical negligence cases, it follows that properly distinguishing medical negligence from standard negligence is important for successfully asserting and proving claims that ambiguously skirt the line between standard negligence and medical negligence. This issue is at the center of a recent decision from the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Buck v. Columbia Hospital Corporation Of South Broward. In Buck, the court needed to determine whether it was proper for a trial court to dismiss a wrongful death case for failing to comply with the medical negligence pre-suit requirements of Chapter 766, Florida Statutes.
The act of negligence resulting in the death at issue in this case occurred in May 2012. At that time, the decedent was brought to Westside Regional Medical Center in Broward County and admitted for complications related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Two days following her admission, the decedent was scheduled to have x-rays performed and was transported to the radiology floor. Prior to the decedent’s x-rays being taken, transport techs at the medical facility lifted the decedent from the transport gurney in order to place her on the x-ray table. In the course of this movement, the decedent was dropped on the x-ray table, which caused the decedent to sustain a fracture of her lumbar spine. Various factors, including the decedent’s age and medical condition, limited the treatment options for the broken back. The decedent’s condition deteriorated thereafter, and the plaintiff alleges that the broken back ultimately caused the death of the decedent.
After this unfortunate series of events, the personal representative for the decedent’s estate brought the current wrongful death action. However, the defendant moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the plaintiff failed to comply with the pre-suit requirements of Chapter 766, Florida Statutes, which covers causes of actions in medical negligence cases. The plaintiff argued that the complaint asserted a cause of action in ordinary negligence, not medical negligence. Accordingly, the plaintiff did not need to comply with the provision of Chapter 766. The trial court found this argument unavailing and granted the motion to dismiss. The plaintiff then appealed, asserting that the trial court erred by granting the motion to dismiss because the complaint states a cause of action in ordinary negligence.
766.106(1)(a) of the Florida Statutes defines a “[c]laim for medical negligence” or a “claim for medical malpractice” as a claim “arising out of the rendering of, or the failure to render, medical care or services.” A claim for negligence is subject to the Chapter 766 pre-suit requirement “if the wrongful act is directly related to the improper application of medical services and the use of professional judgment or skill,” Stubbs v. Surgi-Staff, Inc., 78 So.3d 69, 70 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012), but “[c]laims of simple negligence or intentional torts which do not involve the provision of medical services do not require compliance with Chapter 766 presuit requirements.” Indian River Mem’l Hosp. v. Browne, 44 So.3d 237, 238 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010). The key inquiry for determining whether an action is a medical negligence action is “whether the action arises out of medical diagnosis, treatment, or care.” Stubbs, 78 So.3d 70-71. Although the Fourth District Court of Appeal noted that its earlier opinion in Stubbs, which involved a patient falling after being instructed by a nurse to move from a test-bed to a gurney, left some ambiguity related to whether the act of negligence needed to be performed by a medical professional rather than auxiliary staff in order to fall within the ambit of “medical negligence,” the court took the opportunity to clarify that identity was not determinative under the circumstances. Instead, the court held that the hospital employees or agents in this case were engaged in rendering medical services, since they were “involved in lifting the decedent from the transport gurney and placing her on the x-ray table as part of a medical procedure (medical imaging by use of x-rays).”
Although the court stated that these cases were clearly distinguishable from cases in which ordinary negligence rather than medical negligence was found, this position seems odd looking at the cases cited. For instance, one of the cases cited, Mobley v. Gilbert E. Hirschberg, P.A., 915 So. 2d 217, 219 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), concluded that medical treatment had not begun when the plaintiff was hit in the head with a dental x-ray machine and “reject[ed] the argument that Chapter 766 applies merely because the accident occurred after Mobley was positioned in the dental chair for treatment.” One could argue that the situation in Mobley is analogous to the one at hand, since the x-ray treatment had not yet begun when the patient was being positioned for treatment.
In light of pre-existing case law and the Fourth District’s latest pronouncement on the line between simple and medical negligence, one can see that the distinction can be a murky one to make. Accordingly, those who are harmed while receiving medical care should consider enlisting the advice of knowledgeable counsel in order to determine which standards, if any, would apply. The South Florida medical negligence attorneys at Frankl & Kominsky have ample experience with medical malpractice and ordinary negligence cases and are ready to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to contact us if you wouldd like a free case evaluation.