Suing a Florida Hospital For a Patient’s Death

According to 60 Minutes investigative reporter Steve Kroft one of the reasons that healthcare costs are sky rocketing is due to pressure on doctors to prescribe “unnecessary tests and treatments.” This not only affects American taxpayers in the form of the increased cost of Medicare and Medicaid but has affects on workplace productivity by causing a rise in hospital admissions.

60 Minutes spent more than a year investigating the billing and admissions practices of Health Management Associates (HMA), the fourth largest for profit hospital chain in the country. Last year alone, HMA made nearly $6 billion – half coming from Medicaid and Medicare programs.

Currently HMA owns 70 hospitals in 15 different states. Florida is home to 22 HMA hospitals, from the Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West all the way to Santa Rosa Medical Center in the Florida Panhandle. Additionally, HMA owns dozens of clinics and physician practices.

60 Minutes claims that HMA’s business model has been to encourage the admission of patients because the more patients that are admitted the more money they can make. HMA fired back, claiming 60 Minutes “failed to identify a single patient who complained about the quality of care” or who had been inappropriately admitted.

On its website today, HMA posted the admission rates for all patients treated in their emergency rooms from January 2008 to July 2011. It appears that only 13% of patients are actually admitted, compared to 35% admitted who have Medicare. That means that Medicare patients are more than twice as likely to be admitted into the hospital than the general public.

For over 20 years my Miami personal injury law firm sues Florida hospitals for the careless treatment of patients. In my opinion, allowing Florida hospitals to place profits before patients puts us all at risk. For example, we are often asked to investigate cases by families of patients who have died at a Miami hospital. Sadly, we are unable to help many families because Florida’s laws protect hospital profits by barring the claims of injured patients and their families.

In Florida for example, to sue a hospital for a medical mistake that kills a patient, the patient has to be survived by a spouse and/or children under the age of 25. Family members of an unmarried patient who dies without children or only adult children typically cannot assert a wrongful death claim against a private Florida hospital. As a result, hospitals frequently escape liability for their mistakes.

If a claim meets the legal requirements and is presented to a jury, Florida’s law will cap the amount of money the family is able to recover regardless of the jury’s verdict. For instance, Florida’s Medical Malpractice Statute ยง766.118 limits non-economic damages (pain and suffering) against hospitals for the wrongful death of a patient at only $750,000 per claimant (spouse or child) or $1.5 million for all claimants (spouse and all children combined). If the patient dies during emergency services or at a public hospital like Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, the claim is subject to additional limitations.

Unlike most for-profit corporations, Florida’s hospitals enjoy unique protection from jury verdicts. As long as hospitals can make unlimited amounts of money, they should be held accountable like any other business. Especially when lives are at stake.

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