Deaf student's injury caused by negligence, not malpractice

By Carrie Salls | May 6, 2018

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Supreme Court entered a ruling on April 26 that injuries sustained as a result of the use of a restraint maneuver on a patient at The National Deaf Academy were the result of negligence rather than medical malpractice.

Since the cause of the injury was not related to medical malpractice claims, the Supreme Court said the plaintiff was not bound by the more stringent statute of limitations attached to those claims, meaning negligence claims can proceed.

“Limiting medical malpractice claims to those that are directly related to medical care or services, which require the use of professional judgment or skill, ensures that plaintiffs bringing claims of ordinary negligence are not subjected to the complex presuit procedures for medical malpractice claims, while still advancing the Legislature’s policy goals of encouraging early settlement and screening out frivolous medical malpractice claims,” the Supreme Court said in its opinion.

The Supreme Court said the maneuver used to restrain a patient who had left the academy and was throwing rocks when she voluntarily returned did not require medical training to perform.

According to the opinion, resident Cinnette Perry allegedly dislocated her knee when being restrained using Therapeutic Aggression Control Techniques (TACT) by an employee of the National Deaf Academy, which educates, treats and houses “deaf, hard of hearing, and autistic individuals suffering from psychiatric and behavioral disorders.”

The opinion said Perry had been “diagnosed with bipolar disorder-mixed, intermittent explosive disorder, impulse control disorder not otherwise specified, conduct disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.” The TACT move allegedly used to restrain Perry was part of the care plan written by her psychiatrist.

Perry was allegedly being restrained by academy nurse Danielle Warren on Aug. 7, 2008 because she was throwing rocks and pulling on cables and wires outside the facility, causing damage to the building and endangering staff.

The Supreme Court said Warren claimed in documents filed with the Fifth District Court of Appeal that “Perry positioned her toe down into where ‘the dirt meets the concrete’ and then wrapped her leg around Nurse John Barclay, causing both to fall. As she fell, Perry sustained an injury to her leg, which the staff believed to be a dislocated knee.”

Perry’s left leg was subsequently amputated above the knee, according to the Supreme Court opinion.

In response to the lawsuit filed by Denise Townes on behalf of Perry, the academy argued that Perry’s injury was not the result of negligence, as alleged by Townes, but rather of medical malpractice. As a result, the academy said the claims should be dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.

The Fifth District Court agreed, and granted the academy’s motion for summary judgment in its favor.

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