A November 2017 newspaper report is asking – “Does Florida adequately punish doctors sued for medical malpractice?” The report published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel claims that out of 24,000 state and federal malpractice cases resolved over the past decade, only 128 cases resulted in disciplinary action. Such a small number of cases resulting in disciplinary action further begs the question of whether regulators are allowing dangerous doctors to continue practicing and potentially harming additional patients.
Florida Medical Malpractice Regulations
The Florida Department of Health is required to review all medical malpractice lawsuits filed against doctors in the state. They further are tasked with identifying problem doctors and taking disciplinary action when necessary. This requirement to review every doctor facing a lawsuit is relatively new, beginning in 1988. Prior to that, regulators only had to review closed medical malpractice cases against doctors who had three or more significant payouts over a five year period.
The goal of changing regulations was to identify problem doctors and take disciplinary action sooner, before strings of repeated allegations piled up. Unfortunately, that has not manifested in the way that law would have liked. Instead, the Health Department rarely stays involved in reviewing or disciplining cases that are closed.
Still, doctors and their insurance providers are required to report all state and federal medical malpractice lawsuits (closed or otherwise) to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, no matter what the outcome of the case is. According to a Health Department spokesperson, officials typically don’t take action against doctors in lawsuit cases with a payout of $50,000 or less. Using this minimum payout rule, around 70 percent of all medical malpractice cases would be tossed aside, leaving the state to investigate or take action.
At Brown & Brothers, we have explored numerous cases of doctors continuing to practice, and in some cases continuing to harm patients, without officials taking action. We are dedicated to protecting the legal rights and physical health of our clients, and are prepared to fight for you.
Florida’s Regulation Problem
Current regulations and the minimum payout rule does not seem to take into account multiple cases filed against the same doctor as previous laws mandated. For example, over a span of five years, one Florida doctor was sued five separate times with payouts totaling almost $3 million. While state law requires the Health Department to investigate doctors with three or more judgments or payouts over $50,000 within five years, state officials never took disciplinary action against the doctor who now practices in Texas and is still licensed in Florida.
The doctor, Pachavit Kasemsap, is alleged of serious negligence and malpractice including slicing an aorta during a gallbladder removal, which resulting in the death of the patient. Other lawsuits against Kasemsap allege that he cut through an artery feeding the liver, and in another patient, connected a woman’s rectum to her vagina.
Another doctor, Ata Atogho, has been the subject of three lawsuits since 2013, including one resulting in a $33 million judgment in favor of the patient, but Florida officials have once again failed to take disciplinary action. In this case, the doctor was in the midst of a complicated delivery when, instead of ordering an emergency Cesarean section, he took a personal phone call that lasted at least eight minutes. The child now suffers from severe brain injuries and cannot walk or talk, and requires constant care – and will for the rest of his life. Despite finding he was negligent, Atagho continues to deliver babies and practice medicine.
Why Patients Should be Wary
One of the most concerning elements of these stories is the fact that doctors are continuing to practice medicine without so much as a blip on their records. Investigations are confidential, but in most cases, patients and the public are able to access certain information about doctors who have been sued or who have faced disciplinary action by officials. But if no disciplinary action is taken, doctors can continue to practice without the fear of stigma or adverse consequences.
Unfortunately, the lack of disciplinary action is putting patients at risk of adverse consequences that may be life-threatening, or may have already proven to be fatal. Patients should be wary and select healthcare providers they feel that they can trust. One of the best ways to start exploring your options is by doing some basic research. Consider the following:
- State Medical Boards: Your State Medical Board should have a website where you can search doctors in your state or area. These records should provide information about suspensions, disciplinary action, criminal convictions, etc.
- AIM (Administrators in Medicine): The AIM website is a nonprofit organization that compiles licensing and disciplinary action information taken from each state’s Medical Board. Their simple “DocFinder” directory is an easy way to look for information about your specific doctor.
- State Department of Health Services: The State Department of Health Services provides information about hospitals. Before scheduling a hospital stay, check out records and complaints about hospitals in your area.
- Court Records: Many court records are available to the public via the County Clerk’s office. If your doctor or hospital has ever been sued, these records may be available for a nominal fee. Visit your local County Clerk’s office to find out more.
Of course, the internet is a great way to find information, but it often is biased and unhelpful. The best way to find legitimate, helpful information is by sticking to the sources listed above. If you need help finding legal documents or have questions about medical malpractice, you may also find it helpful to contact an attorney.
Legal Guidance for Medical Malpractice
If you are concerned about the care you are receiving, or need help finding out more about a doctor or hospital that has been sued, contact Brown & Brothers to explore your legal rights and options. We have a plethora of resources available to our clients, and will work hard to protect your rights and ensure that your care and quality of life is of the utmost importance. Fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation with one of our medical malpractice attorneys.