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Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Tossed After Inmate Takes His Own Life


The family of an inmate who died by suicide filed a lawsuit against the Vermont Department of Corrections and others after they said numerous failures led to the death of their loved one. The lawsuit, which made its way all the way to Vermont’s State Supreme Court, was dismissed on the basis that the family was alleging medical negligence but failed to provide a certificate of merit for the allegations of medical negligence.

Almost all states require that an expert witness review the allegations made by the plaintiffs in medical malpractice lawsuits because it is presumed that medical negligence is beyond the scope of what an ordinary person knows. In this case, however, you have a very simple situation. An inmate indicated he was suicidal. The prison failed to act on that information. The inmate killed himself. You don’t need an M.D. to parse out that story. Nonetheless, the plaintiffs were required by the court to provide a certificate of merit and until they do, their case will not be able to move forward.

The decision overturned a lower court ruling allowing the lawsuit to move forward without expert testimony.

Is this really medical negligence? 

Sometimes, the court system is absurd. In medical malpractice cases, you’ll often find doctors arguing that they should face medical malpractice allegations rather than simple negligence claims. That’s because medical malpractice claims are harder to prove and require plaintiffs to jump through considerably more hoops in the prosecution of their case.

In Florida, the standard for determining whether medical malpractice allegations are appropriate is whether or not the doctor, hospital, or any agent thereof made a medical decision that was an error. The requirement for a medical decision to be made is crucial because it means that simple negligence claims can move forward against doctors and hospitals without certificates of merit or expert testimony.

In this case, it’s unclear that a medical decision was made. There was a mere bureaucratic failure to relay information to hospital medical services. Since the doctors were never involved with the patient care, then the mistake predated the medical intervention, and hence, it was simple negligence—not medical negligence.

Why did the defense win? 

Well, the defense hasn’t won yet. The court is requiring that the lawsuit be refiled under a theory of medical negligence. Since it was the Supreme Court that handed down the ruling, the only appeal left to the plaintiffs is to the Supreme Court of the United States, which is unlikely to hear the case. What defines medical malpractice and the rules of torts are left to the states to decide. The case will simply need to be refiled and a doctor will have to weigh in on the system failures that led to the inmate’s death.

Talk to a Tampa Medical Malpractice Attorney Today 

If you’ve been injured due to the negligent practice of medicine, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the Tampa medical malpractice attorneys at Palmer | Lopez today to schedule a free consultation and discuss your injuries in more detail.


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