July 5, 2020

The District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida Fourth District (“Florida Appellate Court”) held in its unpublished opinion dated May 20, 2020, “We agree with Defendants that the complaint sounds in medical negligence and that the trial court departed from the essential requirements of law in denying the motions to dismiss.”

The Underlying Facts

The personal representative of the deceased’s estate filed suit against the defendants alleging negligence. According to the complaint, the deceased was transferred from a hospital operated by the South Broward Hospital District to a residential treatment facility operated by Henderson Behavioral Health. When she was transferred, the deceased was being administered seven medications by the hospital. The hospital provided the treatment facility with prescriptions for the medications but not the medications themselves.

The facility did not administer the medications, and the deceased died four days after the transfer, allegedly from a severe withdrawal syndrome. The complaint claims that the hospital and facility were negligent and knew or should have known that suddenly failing to administer any or all of the medications to the deceased was likely to cause her to suffer severe adverse withdrawal symptoms, including life threatening heart arrhythmias and seizures.

The defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint for failure to comply with the presuit requirements for bringing a Florida medical malpractice action under Chapter 766, Florida Statutes (2017). The plaintiff argued that the claim alleged ordinary negligence. The trial judge denied the motions to dismiss because the complaint alleged ordinary negligence, and the judge believed there was doubt as to whether the claim was for ordinary negligence or medical malpractice. The defendants thereafter petitioned for certiorari review.

Florida Appellate Court Opinion

The Florida Appellate Court stated that for a claim to sound in medical malpractice, the act from which the claim arises must be directly related to medical care or services, which require the use of professional judgment or skill. This inquiry involves determining whether proving the claim requires the plaintiff to establish that the allegedly negligent act represented a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care, as testified to by a qualified medical expert.

The Florida Appellate Court held: “We have no difficulty or doubt in concluding that Plaintiff’s claims sound in medical negligence. The acts from which the claims arise relate to “the failure to render, medical care or services.” § 766.106(1)(a). To prove the claims, Plaintiff must show that the hospital and treatment facility breached the professional standards of care in failing to ensure that Plaintiff received her medications and failing to recognize the danger of withdrawal symptoms. The trial court clearly departed from the essential requirements of law in denying the motions to dismiss. Accordingly, the petitions are granted, and the trial court’s orders are quashed.”

Source Henderson Behavioral Health, Inc. v. Cortes, Nos. 4D20-650 and 4D20-651.

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