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Dawkins v. Union Hospital – Not All Hospital Injuries are Medical Malpractice

Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Florida involves meeting a very specific set of criteria. It’s a more intensive process than filing a general personal injury lawsuit because this type of litigation tends to be very complex.

Among the differences: There is a shorter statute of limitations, a requirement of certain expert witnesses to affirm a breach of duty by the medical professional, and the possibility that the hospital could claim sovereign immunity as “special taxing districts.” There may also be caps on certain types of damages.

However, Palm Beach injury lawyers note not every injury that occurs in a hospital, clinic, doctor’s office or nursing home is the result of medical malpractice. Health care professionals being sued will try to argue otherwise, in order to have the plaintiff abide by these stricter standards. Determining the kind of case you have may be a bit more complicated than it appears, but an attorney with experience can help.

This was the situation in a recent injury case before the South Carolina Supreme Court. While medical malpractice and civil litigation requirements can vary from state-to-state, the general principles here are the same.

The case, Dawkins v. Union Hospital, began in 2009, when the plaintiff started to experience a horrible headache and couldn’t stay balanced. Fearing she was having a stroke, her daughter called an ambulance. The patient was transported to the hospital, where the daughter told emergency room workers about her mother’s condition, specifically the inability to balance and her fear that her mother could be suffering a stroke.

Emergency room staffers admitted the woman, but refused to allow her daughter to stay with her in the room while she awaited care. However, the woman was left unattended and unmonitored for a period of time.

Before receiving treatment, the patient got up to walk to the restroom, lost her balance, fell and fractured her right foot.

She filed a lawsuit against the hospital, alleging she would not have been injured if the hospital staff had performed their duties in compliance with hospital policy. Specifically, she alleged that the staffers were negligent in their failure to properly supervise someone who had specifically complained about instability and dizziness. They also, she claimed, failed to take any precautionary measures to ensure her safety.

The hospital responded by filing a motion to dismiss, asserting that the medical malpractice claim failed to meet the rigid filing requirements, as mandated by state law. For example, she had no medical expert affidavit and her complaint would not be considered timely filed under medical malpractice statutes.

The trial court granted the motion, finding that the claim fell within the broad definition of medical malpractice. The plaintiff requested the trial court reconsider, asserting that the claim was based on premise liability and her status as an invitee to the hospital. The trial court rejected this claim, and she appealed.

The high court had to decide whether this was an issue of ordinary negligence or medical malpractice. The court pointed out there is no rigid analytical line between the two, and the determination relies heavily on the facts of each case. The court went on to say that “not every injury sustained by a patient in a hospital results in medical malpractice” or requires a witness with expertise in a certain field in order to establish the claim.

Examples would be a person injured from a loose ceiling tile or a hallway that is slippery or a parking lot that is not properly maintained.

Medical malpractice results from negligent professional medical care. However, by all accounts, this patient had not yet received any medical care. She also never alleges negligent care.

As such, the court found that the trial court erred, and reversed the earlier ruling, allowing the patient to move forward with her claim for damages.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Dawkins v. Union Hospital, April 9, 2014, South Carolina Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Beauty Salon Lawsuits in Broward Require Thorough Investigation, April 20, 2014, Palm Beach Injury Lawyer Blog

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