Lacrise Moody, is the mother of a little girl who broke her hip in a playground accident, in St. Lucie County Florida. The child can finally breathe a sigh of relief thanks to Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal which rejected her Fort Pierce Florida hospital’s effort to escape accountability for medical malpractice.

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Following the accident, Ms. Moody took her daughter to her pediatrician for an exam. The pediatrician took X-rays and believed that the girl might have a broken her right hip. She recommended that her mother take her immediately to Lawnwood Medical Center, a hospital where she had staff privileges.

Once admitted, the hospital’s on-call orthopedic surgeon examined the child; but failed to diagnose her broken hip. The pediatrician agreed with the surgeon and discharged the girl. At home, the child’s condition deteriorated rapidly. So her mother decided to bring her to another hospital for a second opinion.

The second hospital found her broken hip and diagnosed her with septic arthritis, septic shock, heart failure and MRSA. The child was admitted for several months and has been left with long-term and permanent health problems.

The family filed a medical malpractice case against the pediatrician, initial orthopedic surgeon and Lawnwood. Both defendant doctors quickly settled their cases and releases were signed and exchanged. The hospital was not included in the settlement.

The family’s emergency room malpractice lawyers were very clear when drafting and reviewing the releases to make sure the child still retained all of her legal rights to sue the hospital. In fact, there was specific language included in the settlement documents making sure there was no confusion on this issue.

As soon as the releases were signed, the hospital tried to get the child’s case dismissed claiming that they were no longer legally responsible for her injuries. In support of their position, they attached an illegible copy of the back of one of the admission papers they claim the mother signed in the ER.

This case is a typical example of how a hospital in Florida attempted to escape paying for their medical mistakes. Injured hospital patients and their families are often shocked to learn that most of the doctors and surgeons who provide medical care to them are not employed by the hospital. Hospitals, for the most part, try to distance themselves from what a doctor or surgeon has done by claiming that the doctor is only an “independent contractor” of the hospital. In other words, the doctor is not the hospital’s employee; and therefore, it should not be legally accountable for a doctor’s mistake.

Lawnwood tried to escape responsibility by relying on the fine print on the back of some paperwork that the mother was forced to sign in its ER. The child’s mother denies having signed anything. In reality, patients or the parents of patients often unqualified to comprehend the legal ramifications of these complex forms when they are simply thrust upon them in the triage of an emergency room. Yet sadly, this happens everyday in hospitals across Florida. As a parent, I completely understand – I would sign anything to ensure my injured daughter receives care.

However, as a lawyer that sues hospitals and doctors for medical malpractice in Miami, I don’t think that hospitals should be permitted to use the legal mumbo jumbo drafted by high-priced Florida insurance defense lawyers. These forms contain self-serving language designed to shield and protect hospitals from litigation and accountability to their injured patients.

Florida’s Good Samaritan Act provides qualified immunity to ER doctors and hospitals that cause harm. A similar protection should be afforded to injured patients, especially children, who unknowingly sign away their rights under the duress of a medical emergency.

Hospital admission forms are contracts between a patient and a hospital. Commonly, admission forms detail the legal relationship between a hospital and doctors–who are not the responsibility of the hospital–yet this does not discharge the hospital responsibility to the patient for any negligence.

In this particular case, the admission forms were silent as to whether or not the hospital had liability to the patient. Again, the mother denies ever seeing or signing any of these forms. Fortunately for this injured child and her family, the Appellate court agreed with the family by allowing the case to proceed. Read the opinion here.

I hope this case send a strong message to Florida’s hospitals, courts and most importantly to Tallahassee that the legal rights of injured patients deserve as much protection as the rights of hospitals and medical doctors.

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