Ross v. St. Luke’s – Weighing Hospital Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit

In Florida, if you slip or trip and fall in a doctor’s office or hospital and are injured, is it considered a medical malpractice case or a premises liability claim?

It’s an important distinction because the answer to this question is going to impact whether you must retain expert witness testimony, what kind of notification requirements you must meet, the relevant proof burden, the general amount of damages you may be awarded, and the applicable statute of limitations deadline.

Just as an example of the differences, Florida’s statute of limitations on medical malpractice cases is two years, while the deadline for personal injury cases is four years.

The boundary between professional negligence and premises liability is not fully settled in all districts, but many courts have offered guidance. Most recently, we saw it in the case of Ross v. St. Luke’s Episcopal Hosp. before the Texas Supreme Court.

The basic guideline is if a medical facility doesn’t provide a safe environment for an admitted patient, it is likely to be considered medical negligence. Otherwise, though, it’s likely to be considered a case of general negligence.

Because the distinction isn’t absolute, it’s imperative to meet with an experienced fall injury lawyer to thoroughly discuss the details of the case before determining the best way to proceed.

In the Ross case, plaintiff was a visitor to a local hospital. As she exited the lobby to the front doors, she slipped and fell on a slippery floor inside the hospital. The floors had just been cleaned and buffed, and there was no warning sign of the floors being potentially dangerous or the need for passersby to exercise caution.

She sued the hospital on the basis of premises liability, which is one of ordinary negligence.

However, the hospital countered that the claim fell under the Texas Medical Liability Act. This would have conferred a greater proof burden on the plaintiff from the outset, and likely would have resulted in dismissal of her case for failure to meet those burdens. As it turned out, both the trial court and appellate court sided with defendant hospital. However, the state supreme court reversed.

In its reasoning, the court noted there was no connection between the safety standards the hospital was alleged to have breached – failure to maintain the floors inside the lobby – and its status as a health care provider. That is, there was nothing unique about this case that couldn’t have occurred in a fast food restaurant or a nightclub. The fall did not occur in the course of the hospital rendering care, and the plaintiff wasn’t even a patient at the time the incident occurred.

This is not to say slip-and-fall lawsuits are necessarily easy to win. In fact, Florida has quite stringent standards when it comes to the burden of proof in those cases, per F.S. 768.0755. However, it does entail a significantly lesser burden of proof than a case of medical malpractice.

Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.

Additional Resources:
Ross v. St. Luke’s Episcopal Hosp., May 1, 2015, Texas Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Study: Impact Absorbent Floor May Reduce Injuries to Nursing Home Residents, April 18, 2015, Fort Myers Slip-and-Fall Lawyer Blog

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