When putting your or a family member’s health and life into the hands of medical professionals, you trust in their care and competence. You have every right to anticipate that they will use their medical knowledge, training, and experience to stabilize or improve a condition or illness or at least not cause any further harm. You should also expect them to uphold their duty of care to you or your loved one.
Circumstances don’t always work out the way they should or are expected to in life. However, you also have the right to hold those you entrust with medical care to high standards. When they break your trust and violate their duty of care, no matter the reason, patients and their families often feel angry and betrayed. These are normal feelings, and the medical professional who acted negligently to cause an injury should be held liable.
Medical malpractice injuries can be severe and even life-changing. Those who suffer these injuries and their family members deserve compensation for their injuries. Take the first step in getting the financial recovery you are entitled to receive by meeting with an experienced West Palm Beach medical malpractice lawyer at Iscoe Law today.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice arises from negligence and is one type of personal injury. However, what might be considered negligence in one medical profession, isn’t necessarily negligence in another. For example, a registered nurse isn’t licensed to prescribe medications or perform surgeries, but a physician or surgeon is. If a physician prescribes the wrong medication or wrong dose or a surgeon operates on the wrong side of the body, they are negligent.
Healthcare professionals are supposed to provide a standard of care congruent with the same type of care another healthcare professional would provide to a patient in a similar condition. When they don’t, and someone is injured as a result, there is a viable claim for medical malpractice that should be discussed with a West Palm Beach medical malpractice attorney.
Under Florida statutes 766.101, the standard of care is described as “the prevailing professional standard of care is that level of care, skill, and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers.”
Common Types of Medical Malpractice in Florida
Any nonconformity to accepted ethical and medical standards can result in medical malpractice. Some types of medical negligence claims occur more often than others.
Prescription Drug Errors
Prescription drug mistakes can lead to anything from a minor allergic reaction to death. Doctors have a duty to ensure they are keeping patients safe when prescribing medication.
- Prescription drug errors frequently include:
- Prescribing the wrong medicine for a patient’s detected condition
- Prescribing the incorrect dosage— too much or too little medication
- Not recognizing possible dangerous allergic reactions or drug interactions
- Not recognizing the signs of abuse, addiction, or overdose
Hospitalized patients sometimes get the wrong medicine. If a negligent pharmacist incorrectly fills a drug prescription, they could be found responsible for causing a patient harm. Likewise, a nurse who gives the wrong medication or wrong dose can also be held liable for the damages they cause.
Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis
An incorrect or late diagnosis leads to unnecessary treatments or a patient not getting timely treatment for the correct diagnosis. A misdiagnosis can happen when a doctor doesn’t:
- Identify clinical signs and symptoms
- Order appropriate medical testing or pursue more information
- Refer the patient to a medical specialist as necessary
Other common mistakes that can delay the identification of an illness include:
- Mislabeled test or lab specimens and results
- Missing test results
- Errors when evaluating data or performing a test
A prompt and correct diagnosis can have life or death consequences. A healthcare professional who is reckless with diagnosing a patient should be held liable for the damages they cause.
Failure to Treat
Failure to treat breaches the standards of care that a medical professional accepts when accepting the care of their patients.
Examples of failure to treat include:
- Discharging a patient too early from the hospital
- Not giving instructions for follow-up care
- Failing to order necessary medical tests
- Not considering a patient’s medical history when ordering medicine or treatment
Sometimes a physician’s failure to treat is related to assuming the care of more patients than they can handle. Under some circumstances, their employer might also be responsible for forcing or letting them take on too many patients at one time.
Surgical or Procedural Errors
No matter if you are having emergency or elective surgery, the operating room is full of many medical professionals who have a duty to protect patients from harm. The same also applies to an outpatient procedure, like a biopsy.
Common mistakes that can happen surrounding surgery include:
- Operating on the wrong part of the body—for instance, the right ankle instead of the left ankle
- Operating on the wrong patient
- Medical devices such as sponges or tools left inside the patient when the surgery is over
- Reactions to or problems with anesthesia
- Failing to adhere to accepted medical standards before, during, and after performing a surgery
- Failure of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to correctly communicate about vital patient information, such as an allergy, during surgery
Sadly, the harm that occurs before, during, or after childbirth sometimes has disastrous results. For some patients, the damage won’t ever be undone or will need several months or years to heal.
Birth injuries are frequently caused by:
- Inferior prenatal care
- Improper use of forceps or excessive force when delivering the baby
- The baby’s umbilical cord is wrapped around its neck or tied in knots
- Not recognizing fetal distress
- Not performing a c-section when it’s warranted
- Shaking, dropping, or mishandling a baby during or after birth
Suppose the mother wasn’t informed about prenatal health conditions before delivery. In that case, this could be a reason for a medical malpractice case. For instance, if a physician fails to tell the mother that her child will have Downs Syndrome, it’s poor practice.
Medical Malpractice Statistics
Medical malpractice and medical mistakes are more significant and prevalent than most people think. Consider these concerning statistics:
- Ten percent or about 250,000 of all U.S. deaths are due to medical errors, although some sources say it could be as high as 440,000
- Medical errors are the third-highest cause of death in the U.S.
- Florida is among the top ten states for medical malpractice
- Every year, as many as 7,000 to 9,000 Americans die because of a medication error
- The total cost of caring for around seven million victims of medication-associated errors exceeds $40 billion every year, which are the most common type of medical errors
- Failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis accounts for one-third of all medical lawsuits
- The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that half of all medical malpractice cases are filed against practicing surgeons
- Almost half of all doctors age 55 or older report being sued, compared with just eight percent of doctors younger than 40
- According to a Harvard Medical Practice Study, only one in eight medical malpractice victims files a claim for monetary recovery
Victims of medical malpractice and their families are entitled to receive compensation for their damages. Even if they aren’t sure if what they experienced was medical malpractice, it’s best to check with a seasoned West Palm Beach medical malpractice lawyer to determine their next steps and if they have a valid claim. If they simply assume that they don’t have a case, injured individuals could be walking away from the financial recovery they deserve.
Proving Medical Malpractice
Proving medical malpractice can be quite a challenge, which is one reason why it’s imperative to have a knowledgeable West Palm Beach medical malpractice attorney on your side. They aren’t afraid to stand up to large medical corporations, insurance companies, or legal teams.
Your medical malpractice case will need to prove that:
- There was a relationship between the patient and the physician; in other words, care had been established
- The physician deviated from the standard of care
- A health accident happened because of the physician’s negligence and no other factors
- The victim was damaged by the doctor’s negligence and suffered some type of harm
If your claim can’t prove each of these factors, it won’t be successful. Most medical malpractice claims require testimony from a medical expert in the same specialty as the medical professional who caused your injuries. These experts help show how the professional who caused your injuries deviated from the accepted standard of care. They may also be able to testify to help establish your injuries and how they have impacted your life. When you hire a qualified West Palm Beach medical malpractice attorney, they will have access to medical experts they can use to testify on your behalf.
Florida’s Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations
Simply put, a statute of limitations is the time someone has to file a legal action. Every state sets its own deadlines, which can vary from one type of case to another. In Florida, the medical malpractice statute of limitations is the same for all other personal injury claims. Injured victims have two years from the date of their injury to file a legal case. If they don’t file their case within this critical deadline, they will have no future legal recourse.
However, in some cases, the injury isn’t recognized on the same date that the malpractice action happened. For example, if a surgeon left surgical sponges inside a patient when performing abdominal surgery. Still, the patient didn’t discover it until a month later. The statute of limitations would begin to run from when the injury was discovered or should have reasonably been discovered, not when it occurred.
Even still, injured parties also need to know that they are barred from taking legal action after four years from the date the medical malpractice occurred. If a sponge or surgical instrument was left inside of a patient and they failed to discover it until after four years elapsed, they would have no legal recourse.
Two other exceptions might apply to the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases:
- Exception for minors under the age of eight—Since some children might not have symptoms of medical malpractice for quite sometime after its occurrence, their parents or legal guardians are allowed to file a claim up to two years from the date of discovery if it happened while the child was under eight.
- Exception for intentional fraud or concealment—Suppose a medical professional provided intentionally fraudulent information or attempted to conceal it. In that case, the victim has a total of seven years from the date of the malpractice event to file a lawsuit.
The statute of limitations that applies to your specific case is not always straightforward or simple. Misunderstanding which deadline applies in your situation can have dire consequences, such as not getting the compensation you need to pay your medical bills or make up for your lost income. You can ensure your case is filed on time and all other deadlines are met by securing the representation of a well-versed West Palm Beach medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible after you have learned of the malpractice injury you experienced.
Your Medical Malpractice Damages
People who have been injured or lost a loved one to a healthcare professional’s negligence are entitled to recover damages. Damages are the financial translation of their tangible and intangible losses. There are two categories of damages; economic and non-economic. Under Florida law, people injured by the negligence of medical professionals are entitled to compensation for their losses.
Economic damages are often referred to as special damages and can include compensation for:
- Past and future medical expenses such as surgeries, hospitalizations, prescriptions, physical therapy, and medical devices and equipment
- Past and future lost income and wages, including bonuses and PTO
- Other injury-related expenses such as travel to medical appointments
General damages or non-economic damages are losses that can’t really be seen or measured. Whereas economic damages have a given value, non-economic damages don’t. They are subjective, which requires the help of a skilled West Palm Beach medical malpractice lawyer to ensure full and fair compensation.
Your non-economic damages might include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Mental anguish
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Loss of society and companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Some patients who were injured by negligent medical care providers will also be entitled to punitive damages. Punitive damages are different from other damages because they are not awarded with the intent to compensate the victim. They are awarded to punish the provider for their incredibly reckless or wanton behavior. Punitive damages are also intended to help deter similar behaviors from others and even the same behavior again by the medical provider.
Florida does enforce caps on punitive damages. Punitive damages are capped at up to three times the amount of compensatory damages (economic and non-economic damages) or $500,000, whichever is greater. For example, if you were awarded $1 million for your compensatory damages, you could not receive more than $3 million in punitive damages. However, suppose the healthcare provider’s actions were intentional for the purpose of economic gain. In that case, punitive damages can be as much as four times the amount of compensatory damages or up to two million dollars, whichever is greater.
Does Florida have Medical Malpractice Damage Caps?
Some states limit the amount of compensation a medical malpractice victim can recover for their non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. These limits, which are often referred to as damage caps, were enacted as a part of tort reform. The goal was to decrease the cost of litigation, which would help control medical and insurance costs and keep people from filing unmerited lawsuits. However, research showed that these goals couldn’t be accomplished in this way.
Florida laws support the following damage caps:
- A $500,000 cap in medical malpractice lawsuits against practitioners
- $1 million caps for cases in which medical negligence contributed to a death.
- $750,000 or $1,500,000 for death for non-practitioners
However, these laws are not currently enforced. In January 2021, the 4th district court of appeal ruled that damage caps violate the equal protection clause of the Florida Constitution—similar to what the Florida Supreme Court had determined for wrongful death cases. The courts realized and expressed that some types of injuries have non-economic damages so egregious that a damage cap is highly inappropriate.
As it stands, damage caps are not currently enforced in Florida. You should meet with a knowledgeable West Palm Beach medical malpractice attorney to determine how much your case could be worth and if your damages could be capped.
Call an Experienced West Palm Beach Medical Malpractice Attorney Today
At the Iscoe Law Firm, our West Palm Beach medical malpractice attorneys know how medical malpractice injuries can negatively impact your life physically, emotionally, and financially. We go to work to fight for justice on your behalf. Whenever possible, we attempt to settle your claim for an amount that reflects all of your damages. If this isn’t possible, we aren’t afraid to litigate your case in a courtroom. When a medical professional betrays your trust and injures you or someone you love, the results can be life-altering, permanent, and disastrous. While we can’t rewind the clock, we can help you hold the professionals responsible for the harm you or your loved one suffered. Our firm has the time, knowledge, and resources to provide you the best outcome possible in your medical malpractice case.
Contact us at (800) 800-6500 or online today to schedule your no-obligation, confidential consultation and learn more about our legal rights. We will review your case and advise you of your options and your next best steps. Remember, you only have a limited amount of time to exercise your legal rights.