Supreme Court overturns ruling in patient death

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A divided Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against an anesthesiologist in a Miami-Dade County medical-malpractice case involving a woman who died while undergoing surgery in 2009 for a tumor in her skull.

Justices, in a 4-3 decision, overturned a verdict for anesthesiologist Arturo Lorenzo, who conducted a pre-anesthesia evaluation of Maria Elena Espinosa before she went into surgery.

In part, the lawsuit filed by Espinosa’s husband alleged that Lorenzo did not order a second electrocardiogram after an initial electrocardiogram showed abnormal results and did not report abnormal lab results to surgeons, according to the Supreme Court majority opinion.

A Miami-Dade County circuit judge issued a directed verdict in favor of Lorenzo, a ruling that was upheld by the 3rd District Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court said the 3rd District Court of Appeal found that Lorenzo was entitled to the ruling because his actions were not the “primary cause” of Espinosa’s death. But Thursday’s majority opinion, written by Justice Jorge Labarga, rejected that reasoning and sent the case back to the lower court.

“Dr. Lorenzo’s conduct was not the primary cause of Espinosa’s death, but he may nonetheless be liable for his part in it if his failure to read and report the abnormal test results substantially contributed to causing it,” Labarga wrote in a 12-page opinion joined by justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. “Our medical malpractice jurisprudence makes clear that a physician may be the proximate cause of a patient’s injury even if that physician is not the primary cause of that injury.”

Justice Ricky Polston, in a dissent joined by Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Alan Lawson, argued that the Supreme Court should not have taken up the case because it didn’t conflict with earlier court decisions.

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