Medical malpractice issues are heating up in Florida

Currently, malpractice matters are at issue in state courts, the Health Department and the legislature.

Several major legal issues concerning medical malpractice have come to the forefront in Florida in recent months. These matters are extremely important in the quest for justice for victims of doctor and hospital negligence as well as in the prevention of future medical mistakes.

Large verdict with uncertain collectability

On January 26, 2018, a Tampa jury awarded a medical malpractice plaintiff $109 million in damages for surgical errors in a procedure to remove a benign ovarian cyst, causing gangrene and ultimately the loss of her hands and feet to amputation, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The verdict was against the University of South Florida, which employed the surgeon.

The doctor who performed the surgery is still licensed and USF is considering an appeal. Unfortunately, because the University is a government-funded institution, Florida law caps damages at $100,000. The victim's lawyer intends to ask the state legislature to pass a law to pay the verdict.

Constitutional amendment would limit access to adverse-incident records

In 2004, Florida voters by a large majority approved Amendment 7, which amended the state constitution to give people access to the "adverse incident" reports of medical providers. These records allow patients and attorneys to view information about previous medical mistakes made by a provider. Such records could potentially be important in medical malpractice claims.

Tim Cerio, a member of the Constitution Revision Commission, is advocating for a new proposed amendment to appear on the November 2018 ballot that would limit the records that would be publicly available. If approved, documents would be unreviewable if protected by attorney-client or work-product privilege because they were created by medical-provider attorneys in anticipation of litigation, according to WLRN.

If this amendment were to be adopted, it would overturn a decision by the Florida Supreme Court that had held that these records were included in those publicly available.

State slow to discipline doctors for malpractice

In fall 2017, the South Florida Sun Sentinel published a series of articles about its investigation of state regulation of physicians who have committed malpractice or similar acts. Since 1988, the Department of Health has been required to review every federal and state malpractice case filed to determine which doctors should be disciplined. The investigation revealed that of 24,000 cases reviewed during the last decade, only 128 disciplinary charges have been brought.

The Sun Sentinel articles provide many examples of doctors with documented histories of negligence and worse who were allowed to continue to treat patients.

One plaintiff's attorney interviewed by the paper said that he has given up on the state following up on doctors he sues and that the responsibility for punishing these physicians essentially falls on those bringing the malpractice suits.

Seek legal advice

These are some of the many medical malpractice issues at the forefront of Florida patient safety. Advocates for patients will keep a close eye on new developments.

Anyone who experiences injury from medical negligence or mistake should seek legal advice from an attorney as soon as possible so as not to miss any legal deadlines.

Attorney Matthew Jay Lane of Matthew Lane & Associates, P.A., fights for justice for South Florida victims of medical malpractice.

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