The Role of “Proximate Causation” in Florida Personal Injury Cases
In a personal injury case, the plaintiff must prove proximate cause. That is, even if the defendant clearly committed a negligent act, the plaintiff still needs to explain how that negligence caused their actual injury. As the Florida Supreme Court has explained, proximate cause requires proof that it was “more likely than not that the conduct of the defendant was a substantial factor in bringing about the result.” Note the use of “substantial.” Florida does not require the defendant’s negligent act to be the sole–or even primary–factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.
Federal Court Dismisses Medical Malpractice Claim Over Transportation Accident
That said, the burden of proof is still always on the plaintiff to prove proximate causation. A recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Prieto v. Total Renal Care, Inc., illustrates how this burden of proof can work against plaintiffs. This was actually a medical malpractice case. The victim was a 76-year-old Florida resident who suffered from kidney disease. The defendant operated a dialysis clinic.
In January 2016, the defendant had a medical transport return the victim home following a dialysis appointment. During transport, the defendant fell from a wheelchair and sustained injuries. The victim’s estate later sued the defendant, alleging it was negligent in providing adequate nursing care.
More specifically, the lawsuit alleged that the defendant should have transported the victim home using a stretcher rather than a wheelchair. The estate said this qualified as a failure to follow the applicable standard of nursing care. At trial, the defense argued there was no evidence to suggest “any different result would have occurred” had the victim been transported in a stretcher–thus, the estate could not show proximate cause.
The trial judge agreed and granted judgment to the defendant. On appeal, the 11th Circuit affirmed. The appellate court explained that while the estate did present witnesses establishing the defendant’s negligence, none of this testimony proved causation. That is to say, even if the evidence showed the defendant was negligent in not sending the victim home on a stretcher, that evidence did not prove that doing so would have changed the outcome.
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The outcome of this case may sound absurd. After all, how can a defendant be negligent yet not responsible for an accident? Again, proximate causation is a distinct element of a personal injury claim. The underlying principle is that a judge or jury should not “speculate” as to why the plaintiff was injured. The evidence needs to draw a clear line between the defendant’s negligence and the injury.
In reality, proving proximate causation is usually not that difficult, especially when it comes to something like a car accident. After all, if a drunk driver plows into another vehicle and kills its occupants, it is fairly easy to draw the line between the driver’s negligence and the outcome. But there are other cases, notably those involving medical malpractice, when proximate causation can prove much trickier to prove.
This is why it is always important to work with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who will thoroughly investigate your accident and advocate for your interests in court. If you have been injured in an accident and need to speak with a lawyer, contact Leifer & Ramirez today to schedule a consultation.