Florida Court Addressees University Hospital Sovereign Immunity in Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

A Florida appellate court recently issued an opinion addressing whether a plaintiff could hold a university teaching hospital liable for medical malpractice. The main issue turned on whether sovereign immunity protects the university teaching hospital involved in the case.

In 2004, the university and healthcare system agreed to an affiliation contract that provided that the woman’s treating doctor was a university faculty member and employee. The agreement included an agreement between the doctor and the healthcare system, where the doctor would treat the system’s indigent patients. In 2011, the Florida lawmakers amended 768.28, Florida Statutes, thereby replacing the 2004 affiliation agreement. The amendment covered all patients’ care and provided that all university employees and faculty were acting as an agent of the healthcare system.

The record indicates that the woman received treatment for an illness with several doctors employed by a teaching hospital where the university provides healthcare services. She alleged that her doctors’ failure to prescribed appropriate medication resulted in her disabilities. The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against several parties, including the healthcare system, the university, and her treating physician. In response to the medical malpractice lawsuit, the university contended that they were entitled to immunity under Florida’s sovereign immunity statutes.

Under 768.28(9)(a), Fla. Stat. (2019), individuals acting on behalf of the State cannot “be held personally liable in tort named as a party defendant in any action for any injury or damage suffered as a result of any act, event, or omission of action in the scope of her or his employment or function.” The statute provides that private medical schools and its doctors are agents of the State. These parties are agents if the institution is located and chartered in Florida, and if the parties agreed in an affiliation agreement to permit its agents to provide patient services. This applies when the agents are acting within the scope of the affiliation agreement.

In this case, the 2011 agreement conferred sovereign immunity upon the university for treating patients at the healthcare facility; therefore, because the doctor was treating the victim while a statutory agent, they would be immune from a lawsuit.

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