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What Is the Standard of Care in Florida Medical Malpractice Cases?

You go to the doctor hoping to get better, but what happens if your doctor’s carelessness injures you? A doctor’s mistakes can require tens of thousands of dollars in additional treatments to fix, and you might end up missing work as well. In Florida, you can sue a careless doctor for medical malpractice, but you’ll need to prove sufficient careless on your doctor’s part before you can receive compensation. Because every situation is different, you should consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney right away.

The Prevailing Professional Standard of Care

Florida law allows you to sue hospitals, doctors, surgeons, and other medical professionals if they injure you. However, to obtain compensation for your injuries in a Florida medical malpractice case, you typically must show the following elements:

  • The health care professional owed you a duty of care
  • The professional fell below (or breached) that standard of care
  • You suffered injury or damages that the law will recognize
  • There is a connection between your injury and the professional’s breach

A lot of dispute arises over the second element—what standard of care must the medical professional meet when you are a patient? Perfect doctors and other medical professionals would help, but the law doesn’t require perfection. This might surprise you. Even when medical professionals injure you, the law does not make them automatically responsible for your injuries or your pain and suffering.

Instead, you need to show that the doctor failed to meet the prevailing professional standard of care, which is defined as “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.” In short, this means the doctor must fall below the standard of a competent medical professional in the same situation after considering all of the facts.

How Medical Professionals Can Injure You

You can bring a malpractice suit for actions a medical professional took as well as for actions they didn’t take but should have. Specifically, you can sue for the following:

  • Doctors who fail to properly diagnose you. For example, they might have failed to order diagnostic tests, which a reasonably careful doctor would have ordered in the same circumstances.
  • The doctor gave the wrong course of treatment based on the known facts.
  • You endured unnecessary treatments.
  • A surgeon made errors during surgery—by, for example, operating on the wrong part of your body.
  • The medical professional misread your lab results, preventing you from getting necessary treatments.

The key is to find some mistake made that a reasonably careful medical professional wouldn’t have made under the circumstances. Only then can you sue for medical malpractice.

What Circumstances Are Relevant?

The law recognizes that every situation is different, so how a doctor should have acted will depend on the surrounding circumstances. Doctors can only provide certain care depending on what they know and what medical equipment they have available. As an example: If you never tell a doctor you’re taking certain medications—a doctor can’t read your mind. If a doctor prescribes a drug that causes a violent reaction to the drug you currently take, then your doctor might not face legal responsibility for your injury. Under the available facts, your doctor did not breach the duty to act with reasonable care.

It’s also relevant whether the doctor was trained as a specialist. If you go to an ophthalmologist for an eye problem, you can reasonably expect that that doctor will have more knowledge about eye injuries than a regular family physician. In this situation, you can hold a medical specialist to the standard of other specialists in the field.

Could You Foresee the Injury?

Florida law adds another requirement when you claim that a health care professional’s treatment injured you. In particular, you need to show that your injury wasn’t reasonably foreseeable, or a necessary result of the medical treatment, so long as the treatment was provided competently.

For example, a doctor will cut through your breastbone and spread your ribs to perform open heart surgery. This is simply part of the procedure, and it is both necessary and foreseeable. Because of this, you can’t sue the doctor for the pain and suffering caused by your broken breastbone—unless the doctor didn’t perform the surgery properly.

Expert Witness Testimony: The Key to Successful Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

When analyzing your doctor’s treatment, the jury or judge will need to compare it to what other “reasonably prudent similar health care providers” would have ordered under the circumstances. This evidence goes beyond the knowledge of most jurors, who aren’t doctors or nurses in their everyday lives. For this reason, you might need an expert witness to testify as to what a reasonably prudent doctor would do in the same situation.

Under Florida law, a medical expert must hold a medical license and carefully review all of the relevant medical records. However, if you sue a medical specialist—say, a cancer specialist—then not any old doctor will qualify as an expert witness. Instead, this requirement typically demands that your expert witness has recent first-hand experience in the specialty, such as an active practice or participation in a clinical research program. Finding qualified experts can require time and extensive searches, so should contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

Talk with a Clearwater, Florida, Personal Injury Lawyer Today

If you or a loved one was injured by a medical professional, Florida law may entitle you to compensation for your injuries. At Dolman Law Group, we have extensive experience explaining to juries how a medical professional fell below the applicable standard of care. Call us today for a free consultation at (727) 451-6900 or complete our online contact form. All consultations are confidential.