Florida Court Dismisses Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Hospital Accused of Falsifying Records

Florida law treats medical malpractice differently than most personal injury cases. If a normal person is negligent, and you suffer an injury as a result of that negligence, you can sue that person for damages in court. But when the negligent person is a health care professional, Florida law grants him or her special protections designed to make it more difficult for victims to get their day in court. These protections come in the form of “pre-suit” requirements a victim must strictly follow to the letter.

Disputed Consent Form Protects Hospital, Doctor From Malpractice Liability

Florida’s pre-suit requirements frequently keep valid malpractice and wrongful death cases out of court. Consider a recent decision by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals. In 2010, Fort Lauderdale police brought a man exhibiting “suicidal ideations and bizarre behavior” to a mental health facility. Under Florida’s Mental Health Act—commonly known as the Baker Act—law enforcement may initiate an involuntary examination of a person who is believed to have a mental illness and poses a potential risk of harm to himself or others.

A Baker Act examination may not last more than 72 hours, after which a court order is necessary to continue any involuntary commitment. In this case, a doctor at the mental health facility allegedly convinced the man to sign a “consent form for voluntary admission to the facility,” thereby eliminating the need for a court hearing. The man was admitted for some period of time but was later released.

Approximately two weeks after the man was discharged from the mental health facility, he committed suicide. His estate subsequently sued the hospital and the doctor who treated him. In brief, the lawsuit accused the doctor of falsely declaring the decedent was mentally competent to consent to his voluntary admission. Had the doctor determined the man was not competent, the Baker Act would have applied and provided certain “safety precautions,” such as require his family to be notified of his condition. By not following the Baker Act, the lawsuit claimed the defendants were responsible for the man’s death.

The Florida courts dismissed the case, not due to the merits, but because it classified the lawsuit as one for “medical malpractice” that did not comply with the state’s pre-suit requirements. The estate argued this was not a malpractice case, but the Fourth District disagreed. In a July 20 opinion, the court said at its core, the estate’s lawsuit revolves around the doctor’s “medical evaluation which led to the consent form” being signed by the decedent. Assuming the doctor did somehow falsify his evaluation, that would be a claim “involving medical judgment and thus would constitute an allegation of malpractice.”

A Florida Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help

It is always frustrating when a family grieving the loss of a loved one is denied access to justice. That is why if you find yourself in a similar situation, it is important you speak with an experienced Clearwater medical malpractice attorney who understands Florida law and knows how to avoid potential traps. Contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A., at (727) 538-8865 today if you or someone you know has been hurt due to medical malpractice.

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