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Recently, a Florida appellate court examined a case of medical malpractice that included an interesting discussion of the proximate cause component of the case. Proximate cause is one of the most contested elements in Florida medical malpractice law.

Ruiz v. Tenet Hialeah Healthsystem, Inc.

In Ruiz v. Tenet Hialeah Healthsystem, Inc., the plaintiff went to her primary care doctor after discovering a large mass near the back of her head. The primary care doctor told the plaintiff that the mass was a tumor. The doctor then referred the plaintiff to a surgeon. Upon examination, the surgeon discovered that the tumor was close to “pressing upon her brain” and recommended that the plaintiff should have surgery so that the tumor could be debulked. Additional tests were also conducted to make sure that the plaintiff’s body would be able to handle the surgery.

The results of these additional tests were abnormal, but the primary care doctor cleared the plaintiff for surgery nonetheless. The defendant in this case is the anesthesiologist filling in for the plaintiff’s anesthesiologist, who was running late. The defendant examined the plaintiff’s test results, saw some of the abnormal results, and said that the plaintiff was fine for surgery. During this examination, the plaintiff’s anesthesiologist showed up and started the evaluation again from the beginning.

The plaintiff died during the surgery from cardiac arrest. The plaintiff’s estate filed a wrongful death claim against the doctors who were involved in the surgery, including the defendant anesthesiologist. The defendant argued that his actions were not the cause of the plaintiff’s death because the plaintiff’s anesthesiologist started the examination again from the beginning upon arrival. Lower courts did not accept this and still said the defendant was negligent, even if his actions were not the primary cause of death.

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision, sending it back down to the lower court because of incorrect application of a legal principle. The appellate court found that in order to establish causation, a plaintiff needs to show that a defendant substantially contributed to injuries. The lower court used the wrong legal standard, primary cause, in determining the defendant’s liability for the death of the plaintiff. Back in the lower courts, the court must look to whether the defendant’s actions were the substantial cause of the plaintiff’s death.

If you or a loved one has been injured because of the negligence of the health professionals in charge of your care, you might be entitled to compensation through a medical malpractice suit. The medical malpractice attorneys at Dennis Hernandez & Associates are here for you. It can be extremely frustrating to be injured more than you were when seeking the help of a medical professional. Medical malpractice is not something to be ignored. We want you to receive the justice and damages you deserve for the negligence of your healthcare providers. Let us help you get the best result under the circumstances of the case. Contact us today for a consultation.