In Florida, medical malpractice cases are often based on a theory of alleged negligence, either by doctors or other medical staff. In Hollywood Medical Center v. Alfred, the First District Court of Appeal explains that proof of negligence is not enough. A medical negligence plaintiff must also prove causation: that the defendant's negligence caused an injury.
Ursuline Alfred, a 45-year-old South Florida resident, was taken to Hollywood Medical Center (HMC) after suffering a seizure at her home in May 1996. She fell into a coma while in an ambulance and died after suffering cardiac arrest 50 minutes after arriving at the hospital.
Alfred's husband, Camillus, filed suit against HMC, alleging that the emergency room doctor - Dr. Schellinger - and nursing staff that treated his wife upon her arrival at the hospital were negligent in failing to intubate his wife and place her on a respirator when she arrived at the hospital. Following trial, the lower court rejected HMC's motion for a directed verdict in its favor. Alfred settled with Dr. Schellinger before the jury returned a verdict, finding both Dr. Schellinger and the hospital negligent.
On appeal, the Fourth District reversed the trial court's decision on the directed verdict motion with respect to HMC's liability for negligence by the nursing staff. The court found that there was not sufficient evidence to show that the nurses' negligence caused Ms. Alfred's death. Citing the Florida Supreme Court's decision in Gooding v. University Hospital Building, Inc., the court explained
To prevail in a medical malpractice case a plaintiff must establish the following: the standard of care owed by the defendant, the defendant's breach of the standard of care, and that said breach proximately caused the damages claimed.Although Plaintiff presented evidence - in the form of expert testimony - indicating that the nurses should have checked Ms. Alfred's vital signs earlier and more frequently and should have questioned Dr. Schellinger's decision to administer valium, the court found that Plaintiff failed to prove that this negligence caused Ms. Alfred's death. Had Dr. Schellinger intubated Ms. Alfred and put her on a respirator, she likely would have survived, according to the court. However, no one testified that it was the nurses' duties to take such action.
"Thus, while the evidence supported a conclusion that the physician's failure to act affected the outcome, no one testified that the nurses' failures to act affected Mrs. Alfred's outcome."