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Florida Supreme Court Rules On Whether Case Is Medical Malpractice Or Ordinary Negligence

Medical malpractice litigation reforms have been in the works at both the federal and state levels in recent years. Many states continue to seek ways to reduce the costs of litigation and maintaining affordability in the medical malpractice insurance market. According to the American Medical Association, Maryland, Michigan, and Kentucky have all recently had cases where plaintiffs were accused of attempting to sidestep the more stringent requirements that are involved in bringing medical malpractice actions by instead bringing the cases as ordinary negligence claims.

Generally, the protocols for actions of medical malpractice are lengthier and potentially costly. In this case, Cinnette Perry was a student at the National Deaf Academy (NDA) who had a conflict with employees that ultimately required that her leg be amputated.

Supreme Court Ruling

Perry was deaf and had been diagnosed with psychiatric problems. The state’s Supreme Court ruling was consistent with the appeals court finding that the injury was appropriate for a negligence-based civil action, rather than one that should have been a claim of malpractice. Despite arguments from the defense lawyers, the court explained that claims of medical malpractice must be clearly related to injuries incurred amid medical care or services. Malpractice claims require an assessment of professional medical judgment and skills.

Incident Details

Denise Townes, Perry’s aunt, brought the claim against NDA, which is a residential treatment center for the deaf who also have psychiatric problems. When initially admitted, a psychiatrist drafted a plan of care for Perry, which specified certain techniques involving physical restraint when needed. Staff employed these restraint techniques after finding that Perry was throwing rocks through windows and at staff members, as well as disconnecting wiring and cabling. While attempting to restrain her, Perry’s leg was damaged and later worsened to a point that it had to be amputated.

Case Law Cited

The court referenced a prior case in Alachua County where a psychiatric patient used a staff member’s badge and keys to escape from a hospital and was killed. In this case, the hospital failed to keep the patient within the housing unit. The patient located the staff member’s badge and keys to execute the escape. It was ruled that a negligence claim was appropriate because the situation did not arise as a result of medical care or services that would require interpreting the professional skills or judgment of a provider.

Maryland Davis Case

Sheila Davis was recovering from back surgery at the Frostburg Village nursing facility when her mattress broke away from the bed and sent her crashing to the floor. Staff tried to place her back into the bed by usage of a lifting machine but instead, she was thrown to the floor another time. A claim was filed alleging the institution demonstrated negligent behavior, breached a contract and failed to adhere to the Maryland Consumer Protection Act. The trial court found that the claim should have followed protocol based on medical malpractice claims.

Michigan Trowell Case

Audrey Trowell brought a personal injury claim against Providence Hospital after she fell twice while being helped by staff to use the bathroom. The court allowed for summary judgment because procedures required for bringing claims of medical malpractice had not been completed. An appeals court later disagreed with the ruling. The Michigan Medical Society deemed the action as attempting to “undermine tort reform protocol.”

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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