It is normal for injured patients, or even the families of patients who have died, to question their own actions and role in causing a bad outcome. This is otherwise known as patient fault in a medical malpractice case.

It is normal for injured patients, or even the families of patients who have died, to question their own actions and role in causing a bad outcome. And indeed, Florida law, like the law of the vast majority of states, allows the conduct of the patient or injured individual to be considered by the jury, alongside the conduct of the at-fault party, this is known as patient fault. However, what patients or their families may feel “guilty” about, and what actually constitutes negligence on the part of a patient in a medical malpractice case, are two very different things.

The Patient-Physician Relationship

The most common issue I hear patients feel “guilty” about is their selection of the doctor or hospital. After a bad outcome, the patient will research the doctor or the hospital, and find bad reviews, or disciplinary complaints, or negative news stories. They feel like they should have done more research before selecting their doctor or hospital, and blame themselves for the bad outcome.

The physician-patient relationship has responsibilities on both parties. While the physician has a responsibility to treat the patient “within the standard of care,” the patient has a role to play, as well. The patient’s responsibility is to be honest with their doctor, to come to scheduled appointments, and to follow instructions—to act as a reasonable person would, under the circumstances. The patient does not have a responsibility to question the credentials of the provider, particularly when the provider holds themselves out as competent and capable. This is also true in hospital settings, where patients have very little say over which providers will be assigned to their care.

Florida Medical Malpractice Cases

Determining if the Patient is at Fault

Whether a patient bears fault, and what percentage of fault should be shared between the patient and the health care providers involved in their care, is a jury question. Under long-standing case law, fault cannot be apportioned to a patient for the medical condition that occasioned the medical care in the first place.

For instance, Jack and Jill, a married couple, are dancing on a slippery pool deck after a couple glasses of wine. Jill slips and breaks her hip. She goes to the hospital, and a brilliant surgeon is able to repair the hip. Unfortunately, after the surgery, nurses fail to follow the surgeon’s instructions, and don’t administer the anticoagulant medication that is supposed to help reduce the risk of post-operative blood clots.

Jill develops a blood clot in her legs, that travels up to her lungs, and she dies of a pulmonary embolism. In a lawsuit against the hospital alleging that its nurses failed to follow the doctor’s orders resulting in Jill’s death, the hospital cannot apportion fault to Jill for goofing off on the slippery pool deck. They cannot blame the patient for the reason she needed medical care in the first place.

Paul | Knopf | Bigger - Florida Injury Attorneys

Were the Patient’s Actions Unreasonable?

Even where a patient failed to follow instructions, or wasn’t completely truthful with the provider, or skipped an appointment, the defendants will still need to prove that the patient’s actions were unreasonable under the circumstances, and that there is a link between the patient’s “negligence” and their injury. The patient’s failure to attend an appointment, failure to follow some specific instruction, or failure to disclose some piece of information,  may have had absolutely no connection to the patient’s injury.

Ultimately, if you feel that negligence caused or contributed to your injury or the death of a loved one—even if you feel guilty about some aspect of the care, or if you feel that you were partially at fault—you should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Paul | Knopf | Bigger to give you advice.


Contribution from Olivia T. Kronenberg