According to a study conducted by John Hopkins University, more than 250,000 deaths occur each year due to medical errors in the United States. To place this in perspective, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has indicated that 635,260 deaths were caused by heart disease and 598,038 were caused by cancer thereby making heart disease the number one cause of death in our country and cancer the second leading cause of death in 2016. Medical error, according to the study, causes more deaths nationwide than ailments or events such as accidents, chronic lower respiratory diseases, strokes, and alzheimer’s disease. In fact, assuming the study from John Hopkins University, the third best medical school in the U.S., is accurate, medical errors caused more deaths in 2016 than suicide, alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes combined. These facts are shocking, scary, and at times overwhelming, because as a society, we place a great deal of trust in medical professionals. However, despite this trust, we have to realize that doctors, physician’s assistants, and nurses are people that can and do make mistakes.

Unfortunately, when a medical professional makes a mistake, their mistake can lead to a patient sustaining injuries such as broken bones, paralyses, or even death as a result of the miscalculation. So, you might be wondering, given the large amount of people killed each year due to medical errors, why aren’t medical malpractice claims more common? This is due to a host of different reasons such as the victim’s family members being unaware that a medical error has occurred, the cost of initiating a medical malpractice claim, or simply the laws that are in place to protect physicians from frivolous lawsuits in the state of Florida. Despite these factors, one of the most common reasons medical malpractice claims are not initiated is, patients or their family members often fail to speak with a medical malpractice attorney in Miami, FL due to misconceptions about what actions constitute medical malpractice.

What is Medical Malpractice in Florida?

As we live our lives, we owe others a certain duty of care to not act in a manner that causes them harm, and the duty of care we owe the people we come into contact with can change depending on the situation we find ourselves in. For example, when you drive a car to work every day, you have an obligation to exercise reasonable care, which the Florida Supreme Court defines as the care that a reasonably careful person would use under like circumstances. When you fail to fulfill your duty to act with reasonable care, you could be deemed as acting negligently. In the case of medical professionals, they have a responsibility meet the prevailing professional standard of care when they are treating their patients.

Fla.Stat.766.102(1) defines the prevailing professional standard of care as the level of care, skill, and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by other prudent similar health care providers. Similar to our example, when a physician fails to provide medical care in a manner that meets the prevailing professional standard of care, the physician can be found to have commited medical negligence, which is commonly referred to as medical malpractice.

Who can Commit Medical Malpractice?

Although we typically think of malpractice as being committed by doctors, medical negligence can be committed by host of different medical providers. Fla.Stat.766.102(1) states that medical negligence can apply to all medical providers as defined by Fla.Stat.766.202(4), which includes:

  • Hospitals
  • Ambulatory surgical centers
  • Physicians
  • Registered nurses (RN)
  • Licensed practical nurses (LPN)
  • Blood banks
  • Plasma centers
  • Renal dialysis facility

Damages in a Medical Malpractice Claim

In a medical malpractice claim, there are two categories of damages that you can seek, punitive damages and compensatory damages. Punitive damages are awarded to punish a defendant and to deter them from repeating their behavior in the future. Fla.Stat.768.72(2) states that a defendant may be held liable for punitive damages if the trier of fact, the judge or jury in the case, finds that the defendant was personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. As such, punitive damages are only awarded in the most egregious medical malpractice cases. In contrast, compensatory damages are awarded to compensate you for your injuries, and compensatory damages can be separated into two subcategories, economic and non-economic compensatory damages.

Economic damages compensate you for things such as medical bills, lost wages, and future medical expenses while non-economic damages compensate you for things such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life. There are many cases where you might be awarded a larger sum of money for non-economic damages than economic damages. For example, assume that you were injured in a medical malpractice claim and you became paralyzed from the waist down, after your initial medical care, your medical expenses from a long-term perspective would start to plateau at $10,000 per year in the future. Thus, the jury finds that you should be awarded $300,000 in economic damages to be used over the course of the last 20 years of your estimated life expectancy. In stark contrast, the jury must calculate the non-economic damages you are owed. To do so, they try to place themselves in your shoes by taking into account that you will never be able to carry your children or grandchildren again, you lost the ability to be intimate with your spouse, and you will have to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of your living life. As such, the jury believes you deserve one million dollars for your pain and suffering.

Does Florida Cap Non-economic Damages in Medical Malpractice Claims?

The example above is a scenario that plays out in courtrooms every day, and due to this, the Florida legislature enacted Fla.Stat.766.118, which caps non-economic damages at $500,000 per plaintiff unless the injuries sustained by the plaintiff resulted in death, a permanent vegetative state, or a catastrophic injury in which case non-economic damages were capped at one million dollars. This provision of Florida law was controversial at the time it was passed, because even non-lawyers or untrained professionals could envision a scenario where a plaintiff should be entitled to more in non-economic damages than the maximum award that was prescribed by Fla.Stat.766.118.

In 2014, the Florida Supreme Court rendered an opinion on the constitutionality of the provisions of Fla.Stat.766.118 that capped non-economic damages in the case of Estate of McCall v. United States. The Supreme Court concluded that the caps placed on non-economic damages were unconstitutional and violated a plaintiff’s right to equal protection under the law as prescribed by Article I §2 of the Florida State Constitution. This decision was later upheld by the Supreme Court in 2017 in the case of North Broward Hospital District v. Susan Kalitan. So, as a result of these cases, non-economic damages are not currently capped in medical malpractice cases in Florida.

Do I Need to Hire a Miami Medical Malpractice Attorney in Miami, FL?

Medical malpractice cases are complex, and there are very specific state guidelines that dictate how and when a medical malpractice case can be initiated, which is why hiring a medical malpractice attorney is such a critical part of ensuring that your claim reaches a positive conclusion. 1800-Injured is a medical and lawyer referral service that connects accident victims with medical malpractice attorneys in Miami, FL. Call 1800-Injured today to be connected with a medical malpractice lawyer near you.