Psych ward escapee dies in traffic, court rules medical malpractice. After Ashley Lawson, patient as Shands Vista psychiatric hospital, stole an employee’s badge and keys, she escaped and fled onto Interstate 75 where she was killed when a truck hit her. Her estate sued the hospital for negligence, but the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that it properly sounded in medical malpractice. This resulted in the case being dismissed as the estate didn’t meet the notice provisions for a medmal case. However, it was dismissed without prejudice, meaning the estate can try again.
In January 2013, Ashley Lawson, then a patient at Shands Vista, stole an employee’s badge and keys, escaping from the psychiatric hospital. She ran out only Interstate 75 in Alachua County, was hit by a truck and died. Her estate filed a negligence case against the hospital. The case was recently dismissed. Psych ward escapee dies in traffic, court rules medical malpractice, not negligence.
The 1st District Court of Appeal had a hard time with this one. On appeal, the hospital was arguing that the suit was proper in medical malpractice but not negligence, as was held by a lower court. The appellate attorney made a brilliant strategic move with this argument; if successful, a motion for dismissal could be filed as the estate failed to give the hospital pre-suit notice as required for medical malpractice cases. As it turns out, the argument was successful, but just barely.
It was a 7-5 decision in favor of the hospital. The attorney later moved for a dismissal, which was granted without prejudice. Essentially, if the estate wants to proceed in medical malpractice, giving the proper notice, etc., it can; it can also continue arguing that negligence is the proper theory of law under which to file the suit.
Judge Timothy Osterhaus wrote the majority opinion: “Because the breach arose from Shands’ provision, and ultimate failure, to keep Ms. Lawson confined within its locked unit, and was the service that Ms. Lawson’s condition allegedly required, we conclude that the estate’s claim arises out of the medical care, treatment, and services provided to her.”
One of the two dissenters, Judge James Wolf, wrote: “Here, the hospital’s position is that decisions concerning the level of security to provide for a psychiatric patient are directly related to diagnosis and establishing protocols and therefore constitute medical negligence. The courts of this state, including this court, have specifically rejected such an expansive definition and recognized that not all negligence related to security in a psychiatric lockdown unit constitutes medical negligence.”
It is unknown at this time if the estate will proceed with a medical malpractice claim. Frankly, after this ruling it would be foolish not to do so. Judge Osterhaus pretty much gave the estate’s attorney the perfect opening argument.