The Daily

Not everything bad that happens in a hospital is medical malpractice …

Here’s the story:

Miami Bascom Palmer surgical table collapse is an ordinary negligence claim per judge, not subject to medical malpractice rules

The test for whether a claim is “medical malpractice” boils down to the use of professional judgment. If the medical or nursing error involves the use or failure to use good professional judgment by a healthcare provider (as defined by statute), then the claim will be considered a malpractice claim subject to all of the conditions designed by the legislature to make prosecution of the claim difficult and expensive. If the claim does not involve the professional judgment of a healthcare provider, then it is governed by ordinary rules.

Trial lawyers will frequently plead and comply with both sets of rules to avoid any disagreements. However, there are times when it makes sense to press the issue (as long as the client is not exposed to missing the shorter medical malpractice statute of limitations).

Typical examples of ordinary negligence claims in a healthcare setting are slip and falls, negligent security (for example, lighting in a parking lot), or product liability for parts and equipment (including negligent maintenance and repair). The surgical table collapse is an interesting question and probably fell into a gray zone that would have required the trial lawyers for the plaintiff to consider whether to bring the claim as medical malpractice as well as ordinary negligence just to be safe.

The ruling is understandable, however, and while it may be appealed by Bascom Palmer it could have been expected: while experts may be called in the case to explain the cause of the table’s collapse, they will not be medical experts. They will be engineers and product design experts. It is unlikely that the table collapsed due to any professional judgment exercised by the healthcare providers. I can imagine a defense – either by the surgical table manufacturer or someone else – that the hospital staff or surgeons overloaded the table (over time or in this particular case) and that would be my concern before abandoning the medical malpractice angle. Such a defense might implicate professional judgment on the part  of the hospital or other health care providers.