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Florida Supreme Court Clarifies Distinction Between Ordinary and Medical Negligence


In a 2018 opinion, the Florida Supreme Court shone light on when a lawsuit must be brought under a medical negligence vs. ordinary negligence legal theory. This is an important determination because claims of medical negligence demand more exacting standards of proof, such as providing an affidavit from a qualified medical expert. To avoid these formidable and expensive requirements, medical negligence lawyers may attempt to file claims under an ordinary negligence legal theory. But these attempts can flout Florida’s legal safeguards against meritless medical negligence claims.

In National Deaf Academy, LLC v. Townes, a patient was injured when a registered nurse on a hospital medical staff used a restraint as part of the patient’s care plan. The court found the question of whether the negligence was ordinary or medical turned on the nature of the act, not simply on whether it was performed by a medical professional. In this case, the restraint could have been performed by anyone on the hospital staff, whether or not they had medical training, the court said.

In the healthcare setting, there may be instances of negligence that do not rise to the level of a breach of professional care. For example:

  • A nurse spills hot tea or coffee on a patient
  • A psychiatric hospital employee decides not to separate patients and one patient hits another
  • A hospital employee accidentally hits a patient when adjusting his or her bed setting

For such injuries, there are no professional standards of care, and the issue of liability turns on whether the staff member exercised reasonable care under the circumstances.

By contrast, a claim is based on medical negligence if the alleged harmful act arose out of medical diagnosis, treatment or care and a healthcare provider made or approved the diagnosis, treatment or care, the Florida high court said.

The distinction is of critical importance, since medical negligence cases are far more intricate and difficult to prove. In almost all these cases, expert testimony is necessary to establish the appropriate standard of professional care and whether the medical provider deviated from it. In addition, Florida has a shorter statute of limitations for bringing medical negligence lawsuits: two years, as opposed to four years for ordinary personal injury cases.

If you or a loved one were injured during the course of medical care, an experienced attorney at the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A. can advise you if your claim is one of medical or ordinary negligence and whether it is viable. Our Palm Harbor office assists clients throughout Hillsborough County and Pinellas County. Contact us online or call us at 727-538-8865 to schedule a free consultation.

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