THE DEBATE OVER MALPRACTICE Revenge ... or Justice? Medical Lawsuits at Issue
Stobbe, Mike, The Florida Times Union
Albert Yancey was with his girlfriend that night, when she was
admitted to University Medical Center, nine months pregnant with
Yancey watched as a nurse put medicine in Cynthia Johnson's IV.
Then he saw her complain of a headache and vomit blood.
Yancey said he promised Johnson everything would be all right
as they wheeled her to the delivery room.
That night, Johnson gave birth to a son, Cynsean.
But she died a few hours later, early on the morning of Nov. 2,
Yancey said he couldn't find out exactly how she died. He asked
three or four members of the medical staff -- he can't remember
exactly how many or who -- but no one would tell him what went
wrong, he said.
But he suspected somebody screwed up and killed her. He wanted
retribution and justice, he said, and could think of only one
way to get either.
He got a lawyer.
"It's not about the money," Yancey said, referring to his
pending lawsuit, which is to come to trial in July.
"If I can just hurt somebody."
Yancey's reaction is a common one.
Each year thousands of people call Jacksonville attorneys,
saying they or a loved one have been victims of medical
The number and scope of medical malpractice lawsuits is the
center of an enduring debate in Florida.
It's a debate that hit a crescendo in 1988, when doctors were
screaming about the soaring cost of medical malpractice
insurance, and the Florida Legislature responded by limiting
how much money victims can win from a lawsuit.
And it's a debate continuing now, in the Legislature's current
Among the bills being haggled by legislators are proposals by
the state's trial lawyers to make it easier to file medical
malpractice suits, and moves by health care providers to make it
To people close to the issue, nothing is more important.
Rod Brown of Orange Park said he tried, and failed, to get
attorneys to handle his claim that his mother died in 1995
because of medical malpractice.
Brown, 42, makes daily calls to members of the Duval County
Legislative Delegation, demanding a change in medical
"It's not hard to sue a doctor," he said. "It's impossible."
People who sue health care providers face obstacles that do not
apply to people who sue auto makers, restaurant workers, tobacco
producers or others.
The statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice
suit is two years. Four years are allowed for other torts.
Medical malpractice lawsuits cannot be filed until a doctor or
other medical expert has reviewed the case and concluded
Doctors affiliated with state medical schools, which include
University Medical Center and Gainesville's Shands Hospital, are
granted immunity from lawsuits. Victims must sue the state
But the state law cited most often by attorneys as unfair
covers non-economic damages.
Victims can receive three types of damages: economic, for loss
of income and medical expenses; non-economic, for pain and
suffering and other intangibles; and punitive, rarely awarded
damages that punish a defendant for malicious action or wanton
State law doesn't limit economic damages in medical malpractice
cases. But it puts a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages if a
plaintiff insists on a jury trial and refuses to send the case
to arbitration. …