By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health
The Florida Supreme Court made the decision on November 30, 2016, to dismiss a negligence suit filed against a hospital
over the death of a patient Ashley Lawson. Lawson escaped from Shands Teaching Hospital
and Clinic, Inc. The Shands psychiatric hospital
was renamed and is now known as the UF Health
Shands Psychiatric Hospital
and is located in Gainesville, Florida.
The main legal issue in this case was whether the conduct of the hospital
was ordinary negligence or was medical negligence
). In Florida, if the facts alleged constitute a claim for simple negligence, then there are no pre-suit proceedings required, no medical expert witnesses required, and it is usually much easier and much less expensive to try the case. However, if the facts stated in the suit are medical negligence
allegations, then there are a number of procedural hurdles that a plaintiff must overcome. Additionally, the case is usually much more expensive and time consuming to try.Patient Was Mental Ill.
Ashley Lawson was admitted to the hospital
on November 1, 2012, because of a psychiatric illness, impulsive behavior, drug abuse and several suicide attempts, according to reports. According to her estate's initial jurisdictional brief, Lawson was transferred to the locked impatient unit at Shands for her own safety.Lawson Allegedly Freed Herself.
According to reports, an employee's badge and keys were left unattended, which gave Lawson the opportunity to free herself and escape on January 23, 2013. Lawson died soon after she had escaped. She was struck and killed by a tractor trailer on Interstate 75.
A Request To Reconsider The Ruling.
On November 15, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court abandoned its denial of a motion from defendant-appellee Shands Teaching Hospital
and Clinics, Inc. asking it to reconsider its ruling from September 13, 2016. The earlier ruling denied a motion for voluntary dismissal filed by the plaintiff, the Estate of Ashley Lawson. The court's earlier denials had decided not to dismiss the case by a 4 to 3 split decision, with Chief of Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Barbara J. Pariente, James F.C. Perry and R. Fred Lewis in the majority and Justices Ricky Polston, Charles Canady and Peggy Quince dissenting.
Since the ruling on November 15, 2016, Lawson's estate had relinquished its right to file a brief on the merits, noting that the parties are "contractually prohibited from further litigation
in this matter." This language seems to indicate that a settlement had been reached between the parties. Shands Hospital
filed a motion on November 27, 2016, looking for instructions on its due process rights and its counsel's duty to proceed. Shands stated: "Respondent believes it should be entitled to submit a merits brief to this court and present oral argument since, as this court has made apparent through its orders, it views this case as involving an important issue of statewide impact."Where Do You Draw The Line?
This case in particular has raised questions on where the line should be drawn between medical negligence
and ordinary negligence. However, in the motion for reconsideration, Shands Hospital
stated that there was no certification of a question of great public importance or a certified district conflict made in the lower court's decision in the case.
's motion to dismiss the case had been denied by the trial court. Shands then appealed the Florida First District Court of Appeal. The three-judge panel on the Court of Appeal was unable to come up with a definitive result, so the entire Court of Appeal decided to review the case and final reached a 8-6 decision to trump the lower court's denial.
After that, Lawson's estate brought the case to the Florida Supreme Court, seeking reversal based on its argument that the First District Court of Appeal's decision allegedly conflicted with two Fifth District Court of Appeal decisions on what constitutes ordinary negligence verus medical malpractice
). The estate asked for an extension to file its initial merits brief, stating that the parties were discussing a settlement. On July 28, 2016, the estate filed a notice for voluntary dismissal because a deal was in place.
The Supreme Court took the position that the settlement notwithstanding, the Supreme Court should move forward with the case. Court's will often do this when they expect that the legal question will come up again and again in the future, unless they go ahead and decide it.Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.
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"Shands Teaching Hospital
and Clinic Inc. v. Estate of Ashley Lawson." FindLaw. (August 28, 2015). Web.
Hale, Nathan. "In Shift, Fla. High Court Drops Hospital
Negligence Suit." Law360. (November 30, 2016). Web.
"Justice Won't Drop Case In Shands Vista Patients Death." The Gainesville Sun. (September 16, 2016). Web.
"Court Sides With Hospital
In Death of Escaped Patient." Health
News Florida. (August 31, 2015). Web. About the Author:
George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health
Law is an attorney
with The Health
Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health
Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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