Step One in Florida Medical Malpractice Cases: Who Done It? Saunders v. Dickens

These days medical treatment is no longer a case of the local doctor coming out for a visit. Modern medicine involves a myriad assortment of doctors, nurses, specialists, and the like, all of whom are trying to properly treat their patients. When something goes wrong, however, the long cast of characters involved can make it difficult to determine who is at fault and, ultimately, who may be liable for medical malpractice. The Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision in Saunders v. Dickens is a good example of how courts determine causation in a medical malpractice case.

Plaintiff Ruby Saunders sued Dr. Willis Dickens on behalf of the estate of her husband, Walter Saunders, claiming that the doctor was negligent in his treatment of Mr. Saunders. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that Dr. Dickens, a neurologist, failed to diagnose and treat a cervical cord compression, which ultimately led Saunders to suffer from quadriplegia.

Dr. Dickens began treating Saunders in July 2003. Finding that Saunders’ symptoms suggested lumbar stenosis, the physician ordered an MRI of Saunders’ brain and lumbar. The MRI showed stenosis and the doctor referred Saunders to Dr. Guillermo Pasarin, a neurosurgeon. After additional tests, Dr. Pasarin diagnosed Saunders with cervical myelopathy and recommended that he have cervical decompression surgery, indicating that it should be performed within 30 days.

Saunders was cleared for the surgery on November 6, 2003, but Dr. Pasarin failed to schedule him for surgery that month. Saunders developed a deep venous thrombosis in December, which prevented him from undergoing surgery. He was not able to have the surgery after this time and his condition eventually progressed to quadriplegia.

Plaintiff originally sued Dr. Pasarin and Broward General Medical Center for negligence and later added dr. Dickens as a defendant. Plaintiff later settled with each of the defendants, except Dr. Dickens. At trial, Plaintiff’s expert testified that Dr. Dickens should have ordered an MRI of Saunders’ neck in addition to the other tests in July 2003, and that he breached the standard of care by failing to do so.

Dr. Dickens, however, introduced evidence from his own expert as well as deposition testimony from Dr. Pasarin. In a deposition, Dr. Pasarin said that Saunders did not began to suffer from cervical cord compression until September 2003, after Dr. Dickens ordered the MRI. Once diagnosed, the neurosurgeon further stated that Saunders should have been scheduled for neck surgery within a month. However, Dr. Pasarin said that he would not have acted differently had a neck MRI been performed on Saunders in July 2003, because it would not have shown the compression.

In a closing argument, Dr. Dickens’ attorney argued that Saunders failed to show causation, that is, that any negligence by Dickens caused Saunders’ injury. The jury agreed, entering a verdict in Dickens’ favor, finding that Saunders’ injury was not caused by the doctor’s negligence.

On appeal, the Fourth District affirmed the judgment. The Court rejected Plaintiff’s claim that Dickens’ attorney’s closing argument was improper and that the lower court should have declared a mistrial as a result. “Counsel’s closing argument on causation in this case was proper, ” the Court ruled.

An experienced personal injury attorney is vital to pursuing a claim – and determining whom to pursue it against – after a medical error causes injury. If you or a loved one were injured by poor medical care, contact the South Florida medical malpractice attorneysat Anidjar & Levine. Anidjar & Levine represents clients throughout the area, including in Coral Springs, Hialeah and Pompano Beach, and offer a free initial consultation from our Fort Lauderdale offices. Call the firm today at 800-747-3733.

Related blog posts:

Quality, Not Quantity: Expert Witnesses in Florida Medical Malpractice Cases – Duss v. Garcia

Florida Court Explains Medical Malpractice Notification Requirement – Galencare, Inc. v. Mosely

Capping Punitive Damages in Florida Medical Malpractice Cases – Estate of Michelle Evette McCall v. United States