Medical Malpractice Suit for Brain Damage After Brain Operations

In Nardone v. Reynolds, 333 So. 2d 25 (Fla. 1976), a boy had several brain operations and other procedures in early 1965. By the time he was discharged in July of that year, he was blind and comatose and had suffered irreversible brain damage. His parents filed a malpractice action in May of 1971. The medical providers argued the suit was untimely because it was not filed within the four-year limitations period. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals certified four questions to this Court, and we concluded in part: After careful analysis of the variant views of other jurisdictions in this country and previous views espoused by this Court and other Florida Appellate Courts, we hold that, although generally the fraud must be of such a nature as to constitute active concealment to prevent inquiry or elude investigation or to mislead a person who could claim a cause of action, we do recognize the fiduciary, confidential relationship of physician-patient imposing on the physician a duty to disclose; but, this is a duty to disclose known facts and not conjecture and speculation as to possibilities. The necessary predicate of this duty is knowledge of the fact of the wrong done to the patient. Nardone, 333 So. 2d at 39. The respondents rely on this language to support their position. The petitioner, on the other hand, relies on language immediately following this passage, as well as our conclusion near the end of the opinion: Where an adverse condition is known to the doctor or readily available to him through efficient diagnosis, he has a duty to disclose and his failure to do so amounts to a fraudulent withholding of the facts, sufficient to toll the running of the statute. But, where the symptoms or the condition are such that the doctor in the exercise of reasonable diligence cannot reach a judgment as to the exact cause of the injury or condition and merely can conjecture over the possible or likely causes, he is under no commanding duty to disclose a conjecture of which he is not sure. Therefore, his silence as to a possible condition or cause which he is unable to verify in the exercise of reasonable diligence does not standing alone constitute sufficient fraudulent withholding to toll the statute of limitations. . . . As above explained and pursuant to the peculiar facts of this case above described, the third question 1 is answered in the negative. Although the confidential and fiduciary nature of the doctor-patient relationship does impose a duty on the physician to disclose known causes (or causes that should be known through exercise of reasonable care and due diligence) readily available to him through efficient diagnosis and failure to do so constitutes sufficient concealment to toll the statute, there is no concomitant duty imposed on the physician to relate all merely possible or likely causes of the injury. Id. at 39-40.