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Doctor's immunity claim denied in malpractice case

On Sept. 26, a Florida appeals court agreed with the state's Department of Health that a doctor cannot use a state program to shield him or herself from liability in a medical malpractice case. The claim arose after the death of a pregnant patient who sought prenatal care at a Department of Health clinic in 2007. One state program that seeks physicians to provide free care to patients provides extra protections, akin to the state's sovereign immunity, for medical malpractice claims arising from that treatment.

However, the court held that physicians cannot use that defense to shield themselves from malpractice lawsuits that arise outside of that particular context. One physician entered a contract to participate in the Department of Health's free-care program in 2005. The doctor was working in private practice when he made the agreement; later, he began working at a hospital in Palm Beach County.

Two years later, a pregnant patient receiving care at the Lantana clinic operated by Palm Beach County's health department reported abdominal pain. She was sent to the hospital where the physician now worked. Three days later, she returned to the clinic and was sent back to the hospital as a nurse believed she had the life-threatening pregnancy complication called preeclampsia. Despite returning multiple times to the hospital, she died a short time later. The doctor argued that he should be immune from a lawsuit despite the fact that the woman was never involved in the free-care program, nor did the doctor see her through the program. The court rejected this argument.

Misdiagnosis and other medical errors can have a severe impact on patients' lives. In serious cases, they can even be fatal. Someone who has suffered a worsened medical condition due to doctor or hospital negligence can consult with a medical malpractice lawyer about pursuing legal action for compensation.

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