When do healthcare defendants want to be accused of malpractice?
Most injury or wrongful death cases against hospitals, health care facilities, and health care practitioners are governed by the procedures in Fla. Stat. 766, also known as the Medical Malpractice Act. This Act itself is highly technical and specialized; medical malpractice claims come with a short statute of limitations of just two years. Those injured by health care professionals should seek counsel from a lawyer that specializes in medical malpractice litigation because it is just as important for a lawyer to know when a potential claim against a health care professional does not fall under the medical malpractice act and is not time barred by the short statute of limitations.
A recent opinion from the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee in the case of Jane Doe v. Baptist Primary Care, No. 1D15-696 (October 14, 2015) demonstrated this importance. There, Jane Doe (her identity has been kept confidential in court records) was diagnosed with HIV in 2006 at Baptist Primary Care. She kept the information private because of the stigma associated with the infection. In October 2007, after her husband got a new job, Doe called Baptist Primary Care to ask for a referral for a doctor covered by the company’s medical plan. A Baptist Primary Care employee assigned to process the referral disclosed Doe’s HIV status to her boyfriend, who worked at the same company as Doe’s husband, and later to other employees of that company. In January 2009, the company asked Doe’s husband to drop Doe from the company health plan, and fired him after he refused. Litigation then followed when Jane Doe sued Baptist Primary Care for negligence for disclosing her condition to her husband’s coworkers, which caused her emotional distress.
The defense sought a dismissal of the claim not on the merits of the case, but instead because the allegations stemmed from the woman’s medical care and therefore fell under the Medical Malpractice Act. Doe’s claim was time-barred as a malpractice claim under the applicable statute of limitations. Not surprisingly, the defendant made this argument, as defense attorneys frequently argue for cases to be litigated under malpractice rules even where the statute of limitations is not an issue. That is because medical malpractice claims are more complex for the plaintiff and are accompanied by the significantly increased costs of mandatory expert witness requirements.
The Plaintiff contended that the claim was a general negligence claim, and should be allowed to proceed on the theory that healthcare providers can be sued for general negligence when the allegations of negligence do not involve medical care and treatment.
Fortunately for the Plaintiff, the appellate judges found that that Doe’s claims arose not from medical diagnosis, treatment or care, but from simple negligence, and remanded the case back to the trial court to proceed on the merits.