Appellate Court Affirms Legal Fees Award for Plaintiffs in Florida Medical Malpractice Case

In Duong v. Ziadie, a woman filed a medical malpractice lawsuit on behalf of her incapacitated son against his doctor, the practice where the doctor was employed, and other defendants. According to the woman’s complaint, the physician’s negligent care caused her son to become permanently paralyzed. In her lawsuit, the mother sought damages related to her son’s medical bills, pain and suffering, and loss of earning capacity. She also asked the court to award his minor children financial compensation for their loss of parental services and other damages.

Prior to trial, the mother submitted a formal proposal for the settlement of each person’s claim to the allegedly negligent physician. The woman also stated she would seek sanctions against the doctor if he refused the offer and a jury issued an award against him for at least 25 percent more than her $1 million proposal. The man’s doctor refused to settle the case, and the lawsuit proceeded to trial. After reviewing the evidence, jurors issued an award of approximately $10 million in favor of the plaintiffs. In addition, the jury found that the physician was 75 percent responsible for the incapacitated man’s harm. The jurors also determined that another doctor was 25 percent at fault.

Since the jury award was more than 25 percent higher than the woman’s proposed settlement for each individual’s claim, she asked the court to award her attorney’s fees and costs. The doctor argued that the proposal should be ignored because it was ambiguous, failed to sufficiently specify certain terms, and did not allow him to settle each plaintiffs’ claims individually. The trial court stated the woman’s settlement proposal was not ambiguous and granted the woman’s motion for legal fees.

The doctor next asked the court to reconsider its decision. The trial court dismissed the physician’s claim that the proposal was invalid because it was an “all or nothing” offer that asserted claims on behalf of multiple plaintiffs. Instead, the trial court found that the case ultimately involved one plaintiff who asserted claims on behalf of multiple individuals. Because of this, the court entered final judgment for more than $500,000 in legal fees and costs on behalf of the plaintiffs. The doctor then filed an appeal with Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal.

According to Florida’s Fourth District, the proposal complied with the requirements enumerated in Section 768.79 of the Florida Statutes as well as Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442. Next, the Court of Appeal held that, although the trial court mistakenly stated the settlement offer was a single proposal, it arrived at the correct result because Rule 1.442 allows joint settlement proposals as long as each party is properly identified and the offer clearly states the terms attributable to each individual. The appellate court also dismissed the doctor’s argument that the cover letter of the woman’s proposal constituted a distinct and conflicting proposal that rendered her offer ambiguous.

After holding the woman’s settlement offer provided the doctor with all of the information necessary to fully evaluate his potential exposure for each claim, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order granting costs and legal fees to the plaintiffs.

If you or someone you love was injured by a healthcare provider’s negligent act, you need a hardworking South Florida medical malpractice attorney on your side to help you protect your rights. The caring personal injury advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. may be able to assist you with your case.  To speak with a knowledgeable Miami lawyer about your rights today, do not hesitate to call Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Duong v. Ziadie, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2014

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Florida Appeals Court Overturns Order Compelling Medical Exam in Workers’ Compensation Case, January 15, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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