Your Jacksonville Medical Malpractice Case: The Basics
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed July 31, 2017
When a doctor does not properly treat or diagnose a patient, resulting in injury to the patient, it could be the basis of a medical malpractice action. There are other ways that medical malpractice is commited, too, and these types of actions can happen anywhere, even in the sprawling, sunny expanse of Florida's largest city. Jax itself can be hard to navigate, with its tangle of roads that change names a few times over the course of as many miles. Here is some general information to help navigating Jacksonville medical malpractice law.
When Does Medical Malpractice Occur?
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor "accidentally" or, in legal terms, negligently injures a patient. This can happen via action (diagnosis and treatment) or even inaction (failure to diagnose). Regardless of the type of error, in order to show negligence, a patient has to establish four elements:
- the doctor owed a duty to the patient;
- the doctor breached the duty to the patient by not following reasonable standards of care;
- the doctor's breach of duty caused
- the patient's harm.
Of these, it is usually the easiest to prove harm - victims of medical malpractice often have serious injuries that impact their ability to hold a job and live on their own.
A doctor has a duty to a patient when she agrees to treat someone for their injury. That duty means that the doctor must treat that patient under the same standard of care that a reasonably competent doctor would use under the circumstances. The duty is breached when a doctor fails to act according to this standard. In order to show that a doctor acted according to the standard of care, attorneys often ask other doctors in the community how they would treat a similar patient. Florida requires that these doctors must also be licensed physicians in Florida, and out of state doctors must at least obtain certification from the state's licensing board that they are qualified to render an opinion.
The cause of an injury can actually be very difficult to show. A patient in a hospital is usually treated by a number of different medical professionals: surgeons, anesthesiologists, a rotating staff of general practitioners, physicians' assistants, nurses, nurses' aides, therapists, and orderlies. Medical malpractice cases often feature a good deal of assigning blame to other medical providers, among other things.
Anatomy of a Medical Malpractice Action
Medical malpractice suits are a variety of accident and injury suit and therefore follow a similar pattern. A patient will get injured and might consult with an attorney if she is considering filing suit. If they proceed with a suit, the patient becomes the "plaintiff," and may want to look for plaintiffs' attorneys in their area who specialize in medical malpractice. These kinds of lawyers handle many cases of that sort each year and are usually experts in local law. Plaintiffs' attorneys often operate on contingency fees, which means they will get a portion of any award you get at trial or in settlement (or nothing, if you lose).
The plaintiff's attorney will then conduct his or her own investigation, which may include interviewing other doctors and sending the plaintiff to a separate doctor for her professional opinion. After reviewing the case, suit may be brought against the doctor, medical care institution, or perhaps other medical professionals that worked on the patient's case. The medical providers may then file claims with their medical malpractice insurance, who may provide lawyers for their defense, and both sides will begin trading information and negotiating a possible settlement.
If necessary, a plaintiff's lawyer can file a complaint and other paperwork while the negotiations are continuing. Florida, along with every other state, has a time limit on when plaintiffs can bring suits against doctors. These are known as "statutes of limitations," and Florida's is two to four years for medical malpractice cases, depending on a number of factors. Attorneys and plaintiffs must be careful not to miss the deadline while waiting for progress during settlement negotiations.
The Effect of Tort Reform
Tort reform laws across the nation have sought to limit the number of suits brought against doctors (and other people), and often include damages caps which limit the amount of money a patient can win at trial.
Florida has passed a law capping noneconomic damages at $1 million. "Noneconomic damages" is money that a jury awards to a plaintiff to punish a doctor or institution for acting so poorly. By contrast, economic damages are to repay plaintiffs for money they lost, whether due to medical bills, lost wages, or even future lost earnings. Under the current Florida law, economic damages are not capped, but noneconomic damages are. However, this is a topic of hot debate, and the laws may change frequently.
Consider Speaking with a Florida Medical Malpratice Attorney
If you are considering a medical malpractice suit, you may want to check with a local attorney to ask about the current state of the law and get answers to questions about your specific case.
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