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Does Motive Matter In A Wrongful Death Case?


Personal injury law, which includes cases like wrongful death and medical malpractice, typically are not that concerned with the defendant’s motives. Indeed, most personal injury cases arise from accidents. For example, it really doesn’t matter why someone ran a red light and thus caused an accident. All the plaintiff needs to prove is that the driver was reckless.

Fourth District Upholds Use of “Financial Motive” Evidence in Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

But that is not to suggest that motive is never relevant to a personal injury case. Depending on the specific claim, evidence of motive may be admissible. Indeed, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals recently held that evidence of a financial motive in particular may be relevant in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The case before the Fourth District, Healthcare Underwriters Group Inc. v. Sandford, involved a now-deceased victim who had heart issues. The victim suffered from heart issues. His surgeon recommended a mitral valve repair. The victim, not wanting surgery, then sought a second opinion from the defendant in this case.

The defendant prescribed ongoing “medical therapy” for several months. When that failed to resolve the victim’s issues, the defendant recommended a nonsurgical procedure known as a PCI. This involved using a catheter to open the artery and then using a special device to “shave off the plaque” inside the artery before finally placing a stent.

Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan. The defendant made 14 attempts to insert the plaque-removal device and failed. On the final attempt, the victim “went into cardiogenic shock and respiratory arrest,” according to court records. Although the code team managed to stabilize the victim, he died several weeks later, never resuming the ability to breathe on his own.

The victim’s estate subsequently sued the defendant and his hospital for wrongful death by medical malpractice. The hospital settled. The defendant went to trial. At trial, the estate’s expert witness testified that the PCI procedure used by the defendant was not medically justified in the victim’s case and violated the applicable standard of care.

The estate further argued that the defendant’s negligence had a financial motive. Specifically, the device he used in his PCI procedures was manufactured to a company that previously paid him $2,000 for training. The defense objected to this evidence, but the judge overruled that objection.

The jury ultimately returned a verdict of over $4 million. On appeal, the Fourth District declined to order a new trial based on the admission of financial-motive evidence. It noted that while motive was not an “element of a cause of action for malpractice,” the trial court did have discretion to admit such evidence, particularly to rebut the defense’s claim that the PCI procedure was “based solely on sound medical consideration.”

Speak with a Florida Wrongful Death Attorney Today

Medical malpractice cases are subject to various rules and restrictions that do not apply to other types of personal injury claims. That is why it is crucial to work with a qualified Boca Raton medical malpractice lawyer who understands this area of law. Contact Leifer & Ramirez today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.


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