An appeals court Wednesday agreed with the Florida Department of Health that a state program should not shield a doctor from potential liability in a medical-malpractice case stemming from the death of a patient.
The ruling centered, in part, on a state program that extended sovereign-immunity protections to physicians who provide free care to indigent patients.
Participating doctors are shielded from medical-malpractice lawsuits for care they provide under a contract with the Department of Health, the ruling by a panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal said.
The case involved physician Allan Dinnerstein, who in 2005 entered a contract with the department to participate in the program.
At the time, Dinnerstein was in private practice but later began working at Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Palm Beach County.
In 2007, patient Ludana Prophete, who was receiving prenatal care at the Lantana clinic of the Palm Beach County Health Department, was sent to the hospital because of abdominal pain, the ruling said. Dinnerstein, who was on call, provided some treatment, and Prophete was told to return if she had other problems.
Three days later, Prophete went back to the health-department clinic, and a nurse sent her to the hospital because she believed Prophete had the condition known as preeclampsia.
Dinnerstein saw Prophete at the hospital and gave her two prescriptions, and she returned the following day, Wednesday’s ruling said.
She was examined and again released from the hospital but died a short time later.
Dinnerstein contended that he should receive the sovereign-immunity protections, spurring a lengthy court battle with the Department of Health.
The appeals court Wednesday agreed with a circuit judge, who sided with the Department of Health.
“Although Ms. Prophete was a patient of FDOH’s Lantana clinic, she was never shown to be associated with the volunteer program, let alone a patient referred through the volunteer program,” said the ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Carole Taylor and joined by judges Martha Warner and Spencer Levine. “Ms. Prophete was not informed of and did not consent to participate in the volunteer program. The nurse who prepared her transportation to Bethesda did not have any role with the volunteer program and did not refer Ms. Prophete to a specific doctor at Bethesda as a part of the program. … Because the evidence failed to show that Ms. Prophete was a patient in the volunteer program, Dr. Dinnerstein’s treatment of her was not shown to have been as a part of the volunteer program.”