The case of a an eighty-eight year old woman who sued both her doctor and nurses for allowing her to develop a bedsore while under their care is a typical example of how extremely complex and costly a medical malpractice case in Florida can often be.
In 2008, Dilia Dolores Jaquez fell breaking her hip and subsequently developed a bedsore while recovering at Memorial West Hospital. Bed sores or pressure ulcer frequently occurs when a patient is bedridden following a surgery or other illness. Bedsores can happen due to a lack of circulation, inadequate mattress or chair cushion and poor nutrition. Most nursing and hospital experts will agree that in all but the most unusual situation, bedsores are preventable injuries and result only from substandard nursing care.
Once she was discharged from the hospital she was sent to the Miami Gardens nursing home and placed under the care of Dr. Robert Chaskes and Nurse Sandra Saint-Eloi. While there, her bed sore deteriorated rapidly into a Stage IV pressure ulcer. Over the next several months, Ms. Jaquez’s health spiraled down and she was transferred in and out of several additional facilities, including being sent to the Dominican Republic where she died from gastrointestinal bleeding, unrelated to her bed sore in February 6, 2009.
In April 2009 A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Estate of Ms Jacquez against both Dr. Chaskes and his nurse Saint-Eloi, Memorial West Hospital and the Miami Gardens Nursing Home for medical malpractice. In April 2011, three years after the alleged malpractice a jury trial was held in Miami-Dade County. The jury hearing all of the testimony returned a verdict for $350,000. The defendants moved for a remittitur (or reduction of the verdict) and for a new trial. The trial judge denied their motion for a new trial but reduced the verdict to $315,000 and awarded $138,650 in attorney’s fees and costs be paid to the Estate.
The defendants appealed to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal which this week, over five years from the initial treatment that led to her bed sore, issued its opinion reversing the entire jury verdict in favor of the defendants on the grounds that the plaintiff”s lawyers and her experts at trial failed to prove that the actions of both the doctor and nurse caused any damage. A motion for rehearing is now pending.
Florida’s medical malpractice law is devised to make it very difficult and at times impossible for injured patients and their families to successfully hold doctors, nurses and hospitals responsible and accountable for the harm that is caused while under their care.
Under Florida’s law, an injured patient must prove the following three things in order to have a viable medical malpractice claim:
1. The Standard of Care Owed by the Defendant Health Care Provider. In this case both the doctor, nurse, nursing home and hospital did owe the patient the standard to prevent a bed sore from developing or deteriorating.
2. A Breach of the Standard of Care. Here, she entered Memorial West without a bedsore and was discharged with a bedsore. Likewise at the nursing home the bedsore continued to deteriorate, rather than improve. So the breach of the standard was proven at trial.
3. The Defendant’s Breach Caused the Damages Claimed. Here is where the court was able to unravel the verdict. By looking at the testimony that was provided by the plaintiff at trial–which incidentally both the jury and trial judge found persuasive enough to allow a verdict in excess of $300,000– The appellate court read the transcripts of the expert’s testimony and picked apart the two dimensional words on the paper, disregarding the findings of fact of both the judge and jury and reversed the entire verdict because the expert did not embrace what is commonly referred to as the “magic words” in a Florida medical malpractice case that the deviation from the standard of care “more likely than not” caused the damages. In the opinion the court relied upon the frequently quoted opinion in the Florida Supreme Court case of Gooding that outlines the causation requirements for Florida’s courts to follow the more likely than not standard of causation and require proof that the negligence caused the plaintiff’s injury.
Instead, in this case, the plaintiff’s expert, could not say that there was a “better than even chance” that had the procedure he had advocated had been followed, the results would have been different.
This is a sad but extremely common reason why winning medical malpractice cases in florida are so difficult, time consuming and costly. It also illustrates the immense power of Florida’s appellate court system to provide another layer of protection to the powerful at the expense of the injured. Here, the court ignored both the opinions of the judge and jury who found in favor of a plaintiff who did not even live long enough to get to trial because of the words used by the plaintiff’s expert.
This case is a cautionary tale for both people injured by careless doctors and hospitals and for the lawyers that represent them. Representing injured patients in Florida for medical malpractice cases require an experienced and well funded legal team.
If you believe you have developed a bedsore or pressure ulcer as a result of poor care in a Florida hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility, please contact me, Spencer Aronfeld or call our office toll free: 866-597-4529 or 305-441-0440 for a no cost initial consultation regarding your legal rights.