Justia Florida Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Medical Malpractice
Ruiz v. Tenet Hialeah Healthsystem, Inc.
The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal, which affirmed the entry of a directed verdict in favor of Defendant in this medical malpractice action, holding that the Third District erred by equating the proximate cause of an injury with the primary cause of an injury. In granting a directed verdict for Defendant, an anesthesiologist, the trial court held that, even assuming that Defendant was negligent in his care of the decedent, he did nothing more than place her in a position to be injured by the independent actions of third parties, i.e., the surgeons in this case. The district court affirmed, holding that there was no competent, substantial evidence in the record that would lead to the conclusion that Defendant was the “primary cause” of the decedent’s death. The Supreme court reversed, holding that the district court’s decision was inconsistent with precedent regarding the proximate causation standard. View "Ruiz v. Tenet Hialeah Healthsystem, Inc." on Justia Law
Ruiz v. Tenet Hialeah Healthsystem, Inc.
The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal affirming the entry of a directed verdict in favor of Arturo Lorenzo, M.D. in this medical malpractice action, holding that the decision below was inconsistent with precedent regarding the proximate causation standard. In granting a directed verdict in favor of Dr. Lorenzo, an anesthesiologist, the trial court held that, even assuming Dr. Lorenzo was negligent in his care of the patient in this case, he did nothing more than place her in a position to be injured by the independent actions of surgeons. The district court affirmed, holding that no competent, substantial evidence in the record would allow a reasonable factfinder to conclude that Dr. Lorenzo was the “primary cause” of the patient’s death. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding (1) the district court erred by equating the proximate cause of an injury with the primary cause of an injury; and (2) while Dr. Lorenzo’s conduct was not eh primary cause of the patient’s death, he may nonetheless be liable for his part in it if his failure to read and report abnormal test results substantially contributed to causing it. View "Ruiz v. Tenet Hialeah Healthsystem, Inc." on Justia Law
Morris v. Muniz
In this wrongful death medical malpractice action, the Supreme Court quashed the decision of the First District Court of Appeal affirming the trial court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s action and remanded with instructions to reinstate Plaintiff’s complaint, holding that the trial court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint where the record established that Plaintiff’s presuit expert was qualified and that Defendants did not suffer prejudice for any alleged noncompliance with discovery. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) where the facts regarding a presuit expert’s qualifications are unrelated, the proper standard of review of a trial court’s dismissal of a medical malpractice action based on its determination that the plaintiff’s presuit expert witness was not qualified is de novo; (2) before a medical malpractice action can be dismissed based on a trial court’s finding that the plaintiff or plaintiff’s counsel failed to comply with the informal presuit discovery process for medical malpractice actions, the trial court must find that such noncompliance prejudiced the defendant; and (3) Plaintiff’s presuit medical expert in this case clearly met the statutory requirements for medical experts, and Plaintiff complied with the necessary discovery. View "Morris v. Muniz" on Justia Law
National Deaf Academy, LLC v. Townes
For a claim to sound in medical malpractice, the act from which the claim arises must be directly related to medical care or services, which require the use of professional judgment or skill. This case arose out of an action brought by Denise Townes on behalf of Cinnette Perry, and Perry, individually, against the National Deaf Academy, by and through its employees, for injuries Perry sustained while she was a resident at the Academy. Perry was injured when the Academy’s employees attempted to physically restrain her with a Therapeutic Aggression Control Techniques (TACT) hold. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Academy, concluding Townes alleged medical malpractice claims, rather than negligence claims, and failed to comply with the medical malpractice presuit requirements. The court of appeals reversed, holding that Townes’s claims sounded in ordinary negligence because the employees’ actions were “not for treatment or diagnosis of any condition” and did not require medical skill or judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Townes’s claims did not arise from medical malpractice because the administration of a TACT hold was not directly related to medical care or services. View "National Deaf Academy, LLC v. Townes" on Justia Law
Cantore v. West Boca Medical Center, Inc.
The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the court of appeal in this medical malpractice action, holding that the treating physician’s deposition testimony regarding how the physician would have treated Alexis Cantore had she arrived at Miami Children’s Hospital (MCH) earlier was admissible. Alexis and her parents (collectively, Plaintiffs) sued MCH and West Boca Medical Center, Inc. (WBMC), alleging that they had not provided proper medical care for Alexis, who suffered permanent brain damage after a brain herniation. Over Plaintiffs’ objection, counsel for WBMC was permitted to publish to the jury the deposition of the pediatric neurosurgeon at MCH who operated on Alexis, in which the physician answered hypothetical questions as to how he would have treated Alexis had she arrived at MCH an hour or two earlier. The jury returned a verdict in favor of WBMC and MCH. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court erred in admitting the challenged deposition testimony pursuant to the Court’s decision in Saunders v. Dickens, 151 So. 3d 434 (Fla. 2014), and that the error was not harmless. View "Cantore v. West Boca Medical Center, Inc." on Justia Law
Gutierrez v. Vargas
In this medical malpractice action, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it allowed Monica Gutierrez’s treating physicians to testify during trial as to their diagnostic opinions and permitted Monica and her parents (collectively, “Petitioners”) to present rebuttal testimony from a second pathology expert. Further, any prejudice attributable to comments made during Petitioners’ closing argument did not merit a new trial. Petitioners alleged that Dr. Jose Vargas negligently failed to diagnose Monica with a chronic kidney disease, which severely damaged her kidneys and forced her to undergo a kidney transplant. After a second trial, the court entered a final judgment award of over $4 million for Petitioners. The Third District Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for a new trial, concluding that Petitioners violated the “one expert per specialty” rule and materially misrepresented the evidence during closing arguments. The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Third District, holding (1) admitting the testimony of Monica’s treating physicians was proper because they testified as Monica’s treating physicians, not expert witnesses; (2) a second pathology expert properly testified in rebuttal; and (3) a single improper comment by Petitioners’ counsel did not require a new trial. View "Gutierrez v. Vargas" on Justia Law
Edwards v. Thomas
In this case, the Supreme Court analyzed the significance of the constitutional provision that voters added in 2004 ("Amendment 7"), specifically, the “right to have access to any records made or received in the course of business of a health care facility or provider relating to any adverse medical incident.” Fla. Const. art. X, 25(a). The court ultimately concluded that the external peer review reports at issue in this case were discoverable under Amendment 7, holding (1) Amendment 7 was aimed at eliminating all discovery restrictions on “any records…relating to any adverse medical incident”; (2) the external peer review reports at issue in this case contained information on adverse medical incidents that fell within the purview of Amendment 7; and (3) the reports at issue here were the type that are “made or received in the course of business by a health care facility or provider,” see article X, section 25(a). View "Edwards v. Thomas" on Justia Law
Holmes Regional Medical Center, Inc. v. Allstate Insurance Co.
A party that has had judgment entered against it is not entitled to seek equitable subrogation from a subsequent tortfeasor when the judgment has not fully been sustained. Benjamin Hintz was injured when his scooter collided with an automobile driven by Emily Boozer. The car belonged to Boozer’s father, Otto, who was insured by Allstate. Petitioner, guardian of Hintz’s property, filed suit against the Boozers. The jury found the Boozers liable for Hintz’s injuries, ultimately awarding Petitioner $11,179,189. Allstate paid $1.1 million, its policy limit, but the Boozers did not pay the remainder of the judgment. Following the personal injury verdict, Petitioner filed a separate medical malpractice suit against medical provider defendants, alleging that Hintz’s injuries were exacerbated by medical negligence. Allstate and Emily Boozer filed complaints claiming they were entitled to equitable subrogation from the medical provider defendants. The trial court dismissed the complaints with prejudice. The Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to reinstate the dismissal of the equitable subrogation claims, holding that the Fifth District erred in holding that Respondents could assert claims for contingent equitable subrogation without first paying the judgment in full. View "Holmes Regional Medical Center, Inc. v. Allstate Insurance Co." on Justia Law
North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan
The caps on personal injury noneconomic damages in medical negligence actions provided in Fla. Stat. 766.118 violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution. This case arose after complications from surgery left Appellee severely injured. After trial, Appellee’s noneconomic damages were capped by Fla. Stat. 766.118(2) and (3). The Fourth District Court of Appeal directed the trial court to reinstate the total damages award as found by the jury, concluding that section 766.118 was invalid. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the caps on noneconomic damages in sections 766.118(2) and (3) arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer drastic injuries; and (2) there is no rational relationship between the personal injury noneconomic damage caps in section 766.118 and alleviating a purported medical malpractice insurance criss. View "North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan" on Justia Law
Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley. v. Florida
In 1997, Aaron sustained a catastrophic brain injury at birth due to the negligence of employees at Lee Memorial. The family retained the law firm, under a contingency fee agreement providing for payment of 40 percent of any recovery if a lawsuit was filed, plus costs, and stating that if "one of the parties to pay my claim for damages is a governmental agency, I understand that Federal and Florida Law may limit the amount of attorney fees ... in that event, I understand that the fees owed ... shall be the amount provided by law.” A jury awarded the child $28.3 million, the mother $1.34 million, and the father $1 million. Because the hospital was an independent special district of the state, the court enforced the sovereign immunity damage limitations and entered a judgment for $200,000, which was affirmed. The firm pursued a two-year lobbying effort to secure a claims bill from the Legislature. In 2012 the Legislature passed a claims bill, directing Lee Memorial to pay $10 million, with an additional $5 million to be paid in annual installments to a special needs trust for Aaron, stating that payment of fees and costs from those funds shall not exceed $100,000. No funds were awarded for the parents. The firm petitioned the guardianship court to approve a $2.5 million for attorneys’ fees and costs. The court denied the request. On appeal, the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court of Florida reversed, holding that the fee limitation in the claims bill is unconstitutional and may not stand when such a limitation impairs a preexisting contract. View "Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley. v. Florida" on Justia Law