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The Plaintiff’s Burden: Medical Malpractice and Standard of Care

On July 22, 2016, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the verdict in Morrison v. St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, Ltd.; Joachim G. Franklin, M.D., and Emergency Medicine of Idaho, P.A. The jury in the case had found that Dr. Franklin had not failed to meet the applicable standard of health care practice in Idaho and, therefore, was not liable for the death of Mitchell Morrison.

Mitchell Morrison went to the emergency room at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, Ltd. (“St. Luke’s”), complaining of chest pain. Once admitted, Mr. Mitchell was seen by Dr. Joachim G. Franklin. Dr. Franklin took a history of Mr. Mitchell, conducted a thorough physical examination and ordered the appropriate tests. Based upon the results, Dr. Franklin determined that Mr. Morrison was not having a heart attack and was safe for discharge. However, Dr. Franklin did recommend that Mr. Morrison contact a cardiologist the next day to schedule an appointment and to contact his primary care physician. In fact, Dr. Franklin had the emergency department fax its documentation to Mr. Morrison’s physician the next day and the physician’s medical assistant called Mr. Morrison, leaving a message to schedule an appointment; Mr. Morrison did not call his physician back.pulse-trace-163708_960_720

The next day, December 27, 2011, Barbara Morrison, Mr. Morrison’s wife, called several cardiologists attempting to schedule an appointment for her husband. The soonest appointment that Mr. Morrison could get was three weeks away. On January 11, 2012, Mr. Morrison died of a heart attack.

On June 10, 2013, Mrs. Morrison, on her behalf and on behalf of her minor children, filed a wrongful death action against St. Luke’s and Dr. Franklin. In December she filed a separate wrongful death action against Emergency Medicine of Idaho, P.A. (“Emergency Medicine”). The cases were consolidated in February of 2014.

Mrs. Morrison claimed that St. Luke’s and Emergency Medicine were liable based upon their own negligence and the imputed negligence of Dr. Franklin.  One of the main issues of the case was whether Dr. Franklin had violated the local standard of care by failing to properly indicate on an emergency-room record that he wanted Mr. Morrison to been seen promptly by a cardiologist. Because Dr. Franklin did not specify a time frame, the scheduler for the cardiologist did not give Mr. Morrison an expedited appointment; therefore leading to the death of Mr. Morrison from a heart attack.

However, a jury did not agree with Mrs. Morrison and found that Dr. Franklin did not violate the local standard of care in Idaho and that there was no breach of duty. Mrs. Morrison appealed the judgment, taking her case all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court. The Idaho Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court and the jury’s decision and found no medical negligence. In fact, the Justices found that Mrs. Morrison’s appeal was not supported by facts or the law and awarded attorneys fees to the defendants.

When pursuing a medical malpractice claim or another type of negligence claim the Plaintiff is responsible for proving the elements of their claim. Mrs. Morrison had the burden to prove: (1) a duty, recognized by law, requiring a defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the resulting injuries; and (4) actual loss or damage. Mrs. Morrison was not able to prove the second element, breach of duty. Standard of care is defined as the level at which an ordinary, prudent professional with the same training and experience in good standing in a same or similar community would practice under the same or similar circumstances. It is important to note, that this is not an average standards, but a minimal standard.

The Florida Legislature has codified medical negligence and standard of care in Fla. Stat. §766.102. Under Florida law, if you would like to pursue a medical negligence claim you have the BURDEN of proving that the “alleged actions of the health care provider represented a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care for that health care provider.” Standard of care is defined as is the “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.” The Florida Legislature goes on to state that a medical injury does not create the presumption of negligence against the healthcare provider.

While it is sometimes difficult to prove medical negligence that does not mean that one was not hurt by the actions of their doctor. The elements for a negligence claim are simply: (1) duty; (2) breach of that duty; (3) causation; and (4) damages. It is often easy to prove that someone owed you a duty; however, the difficulty comes in proving that duty was breached. Obviously, a healthcare provider owes her patient a standard of care duty (element one), but where most cases are lost is proving, through evidence and expert witnesses, that the healthcare provider breached that standard of care duty (element two) and because she breached that duty the patient was injured (element three).

If you or a loved one has been harmed by a doctor or healthcare provider, please contact the attorneys at Dean Law Firm. With over 83 years of combined experience, the attorneys at Dean Law Firm have the experience necessary to help you evaluate and pursue your Florida medical negligence claim. Call us today at 352-387-8700 or visit our website at www.deanfirm.com.