Should Doctors Be Held Criminally Responsible For Their Mistakes?

There is a popular podcast called Doctor Death which dives into the surgeries performed by doctor Christopher Duntsch which left his patients in greater pain, paralyzed, or dead. On July 15, 2021, a series called Doctor Death was released on Peacock TV. Obviously, the stories surrounding these cases are heartbreaking, but it brings up questions on what legal actions can be taken against an unfit doctor.

Historically, doctors were rarely held criminally responsible for mistakes made during treatment unless in a very extreme circumstance. Over time, there has been an increase in criminal charges against doctors. Dr. Duntsch’s arrest in 2015 and later conviction brought the question of whether doctors should be held criminally responsible for mistakes made during the course of treatment back in the spotlight.

Florida does not have a specific medical practice criminal statute.  If a doctor makes a mistake, a patient’s current recourse is to litigate in civil court.  In order for a doctor to be held criminally responsible, a prosecutor must determine that their conduct rises to a criminal standard, such as assault or manslaughter. This can often be difficult because the prosecutor will have to prove malice or gross negligence.

At this time there is no separate statute in criminal law for a doctor to be held responsible for mistakes made during the course of treatment. The podcast and series of Doctor Death may change that, or at least spark a discussion for that change.

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