Being a Florida personal injury trial lawyer can be very painful, especially when an attorney puts his heart and passion into a case. Yet, in every case, no matter the type or the facts, there will be a winner and loser. Much like a boxing match, with a knock-out punch, someone will be left standing over the devastated body of an opponent.
In a Florida medical malpractice wrongful death law suit, when a plaintiff or the plaintiff’s family loses by either an order of the court or jury verdict they have in essence, lost twice. First, whatever injury and damages they have incurred as the result of someone’s carelessness or something’s misuse may leave scars, disfigurement or disability–not to mention the economics of time lost from work and medical expenses. The second, and often more painful loss, occurs when a judge or jury tells the injured they are not entitled to compensation.
After having practiced hospital injury law in Florida on behalf of the injured or disfigured or deceased for over twenty years, I can report that the majority of Florida’s laws are carefully written to protect the wealthy, powerful and educated, not the most vulnerable. The sick and dying are often denied access to the courthouses of Florida by a complex scheme of laws found in the Florida Statutes. Doctors and hospitals enjoy a degree of protections and insulation from accountability that is unparalleled.
Today, my visit to the Miami-Dade Courthouse served as a cold, dull reminder. Our law firm has the honor of representing the family of a nurse who committed suicide after being, as we believe, negligently and carelessly cared for by a Miami hospital’s addiction treatment center. The nurse suffered but functioned for over twenty years with alcohol addiction and depression. Rather than admit him to an extended outpatient residential program, he was sent home after a rapid, chemically-manipulated detoxification from alcohol. He was placed in an evening program run by the hospital that met for several hours per night, and only four nights per week. Within a few days, he committed suicide by blowing his brains out with a handgun.
We sued the hospital, the doctor who sent him home, and the social worker who had the responsibility of caring for him in the outpatient evening program in Miami for the suicide death. The Defendants took a hard-lined position and moved to dismiss the entire law suit with prejudice, based upon a number of Florida cases that limited the responsibility of healthcare providers for the suicidal death of a patient. While I believe our facts are different and do not believe that this is the appropriate forum to argue the merits of this particular case, I am saddened to write that the Judge agreed with the Defendants and dismissed the entire case with prejudice. In other words, no jury will ever get to hear the facts and decide whether the hospital was wrong. It means that a widow and two children will not have the opportunity to present their claim to a Miami-Dade jury to decide if they are entitled to justice.
Instead, based upon Florida’s Rule of Civil Procedure 1.140(4)(b) the court is permitted to dismiss a claim that does not state a cause of action. Apparently, this particular judge’s interpretation of the law is that the suicide of a patient while outside of the facility or custody of the hospital but while still under the facility’s care, no matter the reason the patient is outside the facility or custody, is not a legal basis for a law suit.
If returning to the office after a loss of this magnitude is painful, the phone call to the awaiting clients who have placed their hopes and needs in our hands is pure torture. Again, the second loss is sometime worse than the first.
Thankfully, the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure allow for appeals from rulings that either side does not believe to be correct. We intend to appeal this ruling to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal, with the hope that our clients will not be denied an opportunity to have the justice they deserve.