Gooding v. University Hosp. Bldg., Inc., 62828

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Citation445 So.2d 1015
Docket NumberNo. 62828,62828
PartiesEmily GOODING, as personal representative of the Estate of T. Hagood Gooding, deceased, Petitioner, v. UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL BUILDING, INC., d/b/a Memorial Hospital of Jacksonville, etc., Respondent.
Decision Date19 January 1984

Page 1015

445 So.2d 1015
Emily GOODING, as personal representative of the Estate of T. Hagood Gooding, deceased, Petitioner,
UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL BUILDING, INC., d/b/a Memorial Hospital of Jacksonville, etc., Respondent.
No. 62828.
Supreme Court of Florida.
Jan. 19, 1984.
Rehearing Denied March 22, 1984.

Page 1016

Richard W. Ervin, Brian S. Duffy and Robert King High, Jr., of Ervin, Varn, Jacobs, Odom & Kitchen, Tallahassee, and V. James Facciolo of Searcy & Facciolo, Jacksonville, for petitioner.

Bruce S. Bullock and Robert M. Sharp of Bullock, Sharp, Childs, Mickler & Cohen, Jacksonville, for respondent.

Larry Klein, West Palm Beach, for Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, amicus curiae.

Joel D. Eaton of Podhurst, Orseck, Parks, Josefsberg, Eaton, Meadow & Olin, Miami, for Dade County Trial Lawyers Ass'n, amicus curiae.

James E. Cobb and Jack W. Shaw, Jr. of Mathews, Osborne, McNatt, Gobelman & Cobb, and John E. Thrasher, Jacksonville, for Florida Medical Ass'n, amicus curiae.

McDONALD, Justice.

This case is before us to review a district court decision, University Hospital Building, Inc. v. Gooding, 419 So.2d 1111 (Fla.

Page 1017

1st DCA 1982), which certified the following questions:



Id. at 1115. We have jurisdiction under article V, section 3(b)(4) of the Florida Constitution. We answer the first question in the affirmative, the second question in the negative, and approve the decision under review.

On the afternoon of October 14, 1976 T. Hagood Gooding suffered lower abdominal pain and fainted at home. Mr. Gooding's wife called the office of Mr. Gooding's gastroenterologist, Dr. Borland, to inform Dr. Borland of these symptoms. Mr. Gooding was transported to the emergency room of Memorial Hospital of Jacksonville. The emergency room staff failed to take a history or to examine Mr. Gooding in the belief that Dr. Borland, who was in the hospital and aware that Mr. Gooding was coming to the emergency room, would arrive shortly. Dr. Borland did not respond to repeated paging. Mr. Gooding complained of increasing abdominal pain and asked to use a bedpan. Soon after straining on the bedpan, Mr. Gooding could not catch his breath. Dr. Borland arrived in the emergency room when Mr. Gooding went into cardiac arrest. Mr. Gooding died about forty-five minutes after arriving at the hospital. The autopsy revealed that he died from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm which caused massive internal bleeding.

Emily Gooding, personal representative of Mr. Gooding's estate, brought a wrongful death action against the hospital alleging negligence by the emergency room staff in not taking an adequate history, in failing to physically examine Mr. Gooding, and in not ordering the laboratory tests necessary to diagnose and treat Mr. Gooding's abdominal aneurysm before he bled out and went into cardiac arrest. Mrs. Gooding's expert witness, Dr. Charles Bailey, a cardiologist, testified that the inaction of the emergency room staff violated accepted medical standards. Dr. Bailey, however, failed to testify that immediate diagnosis and surgery more likely than not would have enabled Mr. Gooding to survive. Even so, the trial court denied the hospital's motion for directed verdict on causation. In addition to the standard jury instruction on negligence and over the hospital's objection, the trial court instructed the jury that they could find for Gooding if the hospital destroyed Mr. Gooding's chance to survive. 1 The jury found the hospital liable and awarded $300,000 in compensatory damages to Gooding's estate.

The hospital appealed. The district court reversed on the grounds that the trial court should have directed a verdict in favor of the hospital because Mr. Gooding's chances of survival under the best of conditions were no more than even. The plaintiff, therefore, could not meet the more likely

Page 1018

than not test for causation. The district court certified the questions above and recognized the apparent conflict between this decision and the decisions of the third and fourth districts in Hernandez v. Clinica Pasteur, Inc., 293 So.2d 747 (Fla. 3d DCA 1974), and Dawson v. Weems, 352 So.2d 1200 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977).

To prevail in a medical malpractice case a plaintiff must establish the following: the standard of care owed by the defendant, the defendant's breach of the standard of care, and that said breach proximately caused the damages claimed. Wale v. Barnes, 278 So.2d 601, 603 (Fla.1973). In this case Dr. Bailey's testimony established the standard of care and the hospital's breach of that standard when its emergency room staff failed to diagnose and treat Mr. Gooding. The critical issue here is whether the district court correctly decided that the hospital was entitled to a directed verdict because the plaintiff failed to prove causation. We hold that it did and approve the decision of the district court.

In negligence actions Florida courts follow the more likely than not standard of causation and require proof that the negligence probably caused the plaintiff's injury. See Tampa Electric Co. v. Jones, 138 Fla. 746, 190 So. 26 (1939); Greene v. Flewelling, 366 So.2d 777 (Fla. 2d DCA 1978), cert. denied, 374 So.2d 99 (Fla.1979); Bryant v. Jax Liquors, 352 So.2d 542 (Fla. 1st DCA 1977), cert. denied, 365 So.2d 710 (Fla.1978). Prosser explored this standard of proof as follows:

On the issue of the fact of causation, as on other issues essential to his cause of action for negligence, the plaintiff, in general, has the burden of proof. He must introduce evidence which affords a reasonable basis for the conclusion that it is more likely than not that the...

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