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Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of HarcourtHealth.com and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.

The recent court proceedings concerning Cinnette Perry, a deaf child injured at The National Deaf Academy in 2008, attempted to draw the line between negligence and medical malpractice.

The Supreme Court’s ruling may have important consequences on the divide between the two.

What Occurred

Cinnette Perry was housed at The National Deaf Academy in 2008, where she had been diagnosed with several behavioral and personality disorders.

When the staff noticed her throwing rocks and pulling on cables, they used tactics classified under Therapeutic Aggression Control Techniques (TACT).

The techniques attempt to communicate with angry youth and utilize physical intervention only when necessary.

During the efforts to restrain her, Perry’s foot caught on concrete and she fell. What the staff initially thought to be a dislocated knee turned into something much worse: the child had to have her leg amputated.

Her Power of Attorney filed a lawsuit shortly after, but the institution insisted it was a question of medical malpractice, as Perry’s psychiatrist had created the care plan requiring the TACT procedures.

The Ruling

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the case was one involving negligence, a failure to take actions to avoid injury to another person, on the part of the institution.

The case may set the precedent for future ones questioning the blurry line between negligence and medical malpractice.

The Consequences

Medical malpractice occurs when there is “any act or omission by a physician during treatment of a patient that deviates from accepted norms of practice in the medical community and causes an injury to the patient.”

“Medical malpractice laws are intricate and time-sensitive,” states a psychiatric malpractice lawyer. Ordinary negligence claims are a bit less restrictive.

Prior cases have questioned the distinguishing characteristics of malpractice and negligence, and many courts have admitted that the distinction is subtle at best.

Perry’s case, however, may finally provide some answers.

General negligence typically involves injuries that do not require expert opinions to be acknowledged. The case supports this notion but also puts its foot down on the who, what, when and where concerning medical malpractice.

Because the injury was not directly related to medical care or services, the Court argued that it cannot be considered medical malpractice.

Taken a step further, this means that although the staff was executing the psychiatrists’ care plan, the psychiatrist was not responsible for Perry’s amputated leg. There was no breach of care on the part of the physician, but there was negligence on the part of The National Deaf Academy.

This impacts what can be considered medical malpractice, limiting cases to those that include direct contact with the physician or medical staff rather than indirect consequences that might occur because of someone else’s influence.

Such a case involving a psychiatric patient who stole an employee’s badge and keys, resulting in a fatal crash, had recently been reviewed. The presiding court’s opinion pointed to medical malpractice, but Perry’s case may make future, similar claims obsolete.