Florida Medical Malpractice Case Study: Failure to Treat Decompression Sickness

We expect doctors to help us combat that which ails us. This is particularly when a medical center is located in an area that is likely to see a much larger than average number of people suffering a specific ailment. Along the Florida coastline, particularly where the water tends to be relatively calm and inviting, scuba diving is hugely popular. This makes it hard to believe that some facilities are not prepared to treat decompression sickness, a failure to treat that endangers tourists and residents alike and raises concerns for our Panama City medical malpractice attorney.

Woman Alleges Hospital Failed to Properly Treat Decompression Illness

A Bay County woman had 27 years of scuba diving experience before she experienced her first bout with decompression sickness. The woman told WJHG she felt pain in her arm immediately after surfacing and decided to go to the emergency room when it did not pass. Personnel at Bay Medical Sacred Heart examined her quickly but told her they did not treat scuba diving accidents and directed her to a facility in Mobile, Alabama.

About.com discusses the threat of decompression illness, also called the bends, which can occur if a diver surfaces too fast causing nitrogen to form bubbles instead of being harmlessly released. While Type 1 is painful, it is not immediately life-threatening. Type II, however, impacts the nervous system and can kill the diver. Beyond oxygen therapy and first aid, treatment protocol includes use of a recompression or hyperbaric chamber as soon as possible. "When treating Decompression Sickness the delay in beginning recompression treatment can be the biggest single cause of residual effects."

Bay Medical told WJHG that they have not provided 24/7 staffing for their hyperbaric chamber for several years, in part because they only see four diving injuries each year. This has long angered the diving community, especially given that the area markets itself to diving tourism and since the chamber is in existence. Notably, Mobile's chamber is the closest in operation and is about a 3.5 hour ride by ambulance.

Florida's Medical Malpractice Law

Medical malpractice claims require the plaintiff show: 1) Negligence; 2) Proximate cause (i.e. the failure directly led to the claimed injuries); and 3) Damages. Negligence in this context is, per the Florida Standard Jury Instructions, is the failure to use the level of care/skill/treatment that a similar, reasonably careful, provider would use in the same circumstances. This is based on the statutory definition of medical malpractice at Florida Statutes 766.102. Claims require the use of an expert witness and adherence to procedural requirements, making an experienced attorney all but essential.

Applying Medical Malpractice Law to Failure to Provide Hyperbaric Treatment

There are a number of different types of medical malpractice claims in Florida. If a diver suffered injury due to circumstances akin to those in the WJHG article, one type of claim that might apply would be "failure to treat."

Notably, Zarin's Jury Verdict Review, a popular reference work, discusses a case in which a Florida man claimed he was injured because a medical provider failed to use a hyperbaric chamber following decompression sickness. The jury ruled in the plaintiff's favor, focusing on the impact of delayed treatment. Experts for the plaintiff suggested the delay in obtaining hyperbaric chamber treatment led to a permanent paralysis in his legs and incontinence. Interestingly, given the discussion in the WJHG piece, the plaintiff in the case reported in Zarin's did eventually receive hyperbaric treatment at Bay Medical.

If a failure to treat, including an unreasonable delay in treatment, caused you or a loved one injury, you may have a medical malpractice claim. Call Attorney Pittman, a Northwest Florida malpractice lawyer, to discuss your case.

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