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A Florida woman who refused to leave a hospital when she was discharged died after she was forcibly removed by police. Why the staff cleared Barbara Dawson, 57, whilst the patient maintained that she did not feel well is yet to be fully understood.

According to her family, Ms. Dawson went to Liberty Calhoun Hospital in Blountstown, Florida to seek treatment for breathing problems and stomach pains. After doctors said she was medically stable and discharged her, Dawson refused to leave claiming she was still having trouble breathing. With Dawson refusing to leave, the hospital called police who took her into custody on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct; but, as Dawson was being escorted out of the hospital in handcuffs, she collapsed. The hospital says staff checked her vitals and found Dawson to be stable, but a doctor readmitted her anyway, at which time she still had a pulse. The woman was pronounced dead an hour later. The Florida state medical examiner ruled a blood clot in her lung, due to being overweight, as the cause of death.

Ms. Dawson’s aunt, who was at the scene that night, saw things differently. She alleges that her niece was mistreated by police and by the hospital staff, who refused to provide proper medical care. The woman said that the doctor couldn’t detect a pulse before Dawson was taken back into the hospital and that hospital staff didn’t try CPR until she was back inside. The family also said Dawson had a history of breathing problems, used an oxygen tank all the time, and was nearly admitted to the same hospital 22 times since 1987 for her health battles.

According to the hospital CEO, the only time hospital staff asks police to remove patients is when there is a concern about other patients’ safety. Considering there has been no mention that the safety of other patients was in jeopardy, it is apparently clear that the hospital staff called police to remove Dawson simply because she was making a fuss and the hospital didn’t want to deal with it. The incident is still under investigation by state and local authorities.

When we seek medical care, we expect the medical professionals to take all necessary steps and precautions to protect our health and our lives. In an emergency situation, we expect those steps to be taken immediately. When doctors and other hospital employees fail to perform their duties, serious physical consequence and/or death can result. Is this case an example of a wrongful death resulting from emergency room negligence? Isn’t difficulty breathing considered a life-threatening situation?

Attorney Darryl Parks says his law firm is in the preliminary stages of their investigation on whether to file a lawsuit, on behalf of the family, against the Blountstown Police Department, Calhoun Liberty Hospital or both. If a lawsuit is filed, the family will have the opportunity to have their case heard in court and seek the full compensation for their loss, thanks to a 2014 ruling.

In case you missed it, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the state’s damages cap on wrongful death awards caused by medical malpractice. The decision, Estate of McCall v. United States of America, essentially declared the statutory cap on medical malpractice lawsuits as unconstitutional. As a result, victims of medical malpractice in Florida will be able to recover the full amount of damages they are entitled to. The caps had previously limited non-economic damages in these cases to between $500,000 and $1 million, depending on the situation and the number of survivors involved.

I am happy that the court echoed sentiments that I have been expressing for years – victims of medical negligence should have an absolute right to legal representation and full compensation; damage caps serve no purpose other than to arbitrarily punish injured victims or their surviving family members. This change became an absolute victory for those wrongfully killed at the hands of a negligent doctor, and may be for Ms. Dawson’s family as well.

Florida’s victory over the evils of tort reform is both promising and a model for how all state legislatures need to change their ways. It is time for all tort reform states to follow by example and repeal their caps on noneconomic damages. Until they do so, those states will continue to deny injured people the right to full and fair compensation for all of their injuries and not just the ones the legislature deems the most important.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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