Published on:

Florida Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Rarely Lead to Medical Board Discipline

Medical malpractice lawsuits in Florida are an indication to the state’s Department of Health that a doctor may be a potential danger to current and future patients. Regardless of the outcome of the case, the state is required by law to review those cases, identify problem doctors and take appropriate action on their license to practice medicine. Doctors could receive an emergency suspension order, probation, long-term suspension or revocation.

However, a recent investigation by journalists at The Sun Sentinel revealed that of the 24,000 closed state and federal medical malpractice lawsuits in Florida over the last 10 years, disciplinary charges were filed by the state only 128 times. That breaks down to one-half of 1 percent. A majority of medical malpractice lawsuits in Florida are settled prior to trial, but reporters discovered even those that ended in a jury verdict for the plaintiff rarely resulted in any action from the state board.

What this means is doctors who have been proven to place their patients’ well-being and lives and jeopardy are continuing to practice without sanction, restriction or oversight. Medical malpractice insurance typically covers the monetary damages as determined, and the physician continues on without further action. 

One example highlighted by the Sun-Sentinel was a case of a South Florida doctor who paid more than $3 million for five separate medical malpractice lawsuits over the course of five years. He was accused of varying egregious offenses, ranging from connecting a person’s rectum to her vagina, slicing an artery to a livery and cutting an aorta during a gallbladder removal operation. In 2012, a jury ruled the doctor was liable for negligence and he was ordered to pay $600,000. The other cases were settled out-of-court. Yet the state DOH never took any action against the physician or his license.

Part of the problem is it appears the state is rarely following up on these cases.

Prior to 1988, the state was required to review closed medical malpractice lawsuits after a physician had three “significant” payouts for negligence over a five-year span. But then state lawmakers changed the law when they set a limit to what patients could collect if they were harmed by a negligent doctor. The change required the DOH to review every single medical malpractice case. The idea was that the state would be able to identify problem doctors quickly, rather than wait for them to repeat their mistakes and potentially harm others. However, as our Florida medical malpractice attorneys can attest, the state doesn’t often reach out for information after a case is resolved.

It’s not the state isn’t made aware of it. State law requires that notice of all closed medical malpractice lawsuits at both the state and federal level in Florida must be submitted to the health department by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. A spokesman for the health department said his agency does not move for action in cases that are older or that resulted in less than a $50,000 payout. That would slice the number of reviews by almost 70 percent. However, it still leaves about 7,000 cases that should be submitted for review, and to only result in 128 sanctions is pretty abysmal. Again, these are cases were there was a payout and it was more than $50,000.

Plaintiffs say they are disturbed because part of the reason they pursued their medical malpractice case was because it wasn’t only about them – it was about making sure other people wouldn’t be harmed in the same way. To find that the physicians involved often faced little repercussion has proven a difficult pill to swallow.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Dangerous Doctors: Malpractice lawsuits rarely lead to discipline, Nov. 16, 2017, By Stephen Hobbs, The Sun-Sentinel

More Blog Entries:

Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Medical Malpractice Damages Cap, June 30, 2017, Orlando Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog

Contact Information