Florida Appellate Court Overturns Summary Judgment on Minor’s Medical Malpractice Claim

In Moody v. Lawnwood Medical Center, Inc., a Florida appellate court considered a lawsuit for medical malpractice brought on behalf of their minor child, after the trial court granted summary judgment against them. The appellate court looked at two issues. The first was whether the releases of two doctors who treated the minor also released the medical center. The second was whether the medical center had a non-delegable duty to provide competent emergency care to a minor.

The case arose when a minor was hurt in a playground accident. Her mother brought her to a pediatric health clinic where x-rays were ordered. A right hip fracture was diagnosed and the pediatrician recommended that the mother bring her child to the medical center that was a defendant in the lawsuit because he had staff privileges there.

The mother brought her daughter to the emergency department at the medical center and signed a form that claimed to limit the medical center’s liability for acts of independent contractor physicians. The mother later denied ever seeing these terms or agreeing to them.

An orthopedist concluded the minor did not have a hip fracture and therefore, she was discharged. However, her symptoms got worse and she had to be brought to another hospital, which found she had a fractured right hip, septic arthritis, septic shock, right heart failure, MRSA and infections. She was hospitalized for 10 weeks and experienced long-term complications.

Her parents filed suit against the medical center, the pediatrician and his clinic, the orthopedist and the orthopedist’s practice, alleging both direct and vicarious liability. The doctrine of vicarious liability in Florida allows one person or entity, such as an employer or in this case the hospital, to be held responsible for damages caused by a separate person or entity. The couple settled with the pediatrician and his clinic, as well the orthopedist and her practice, leaving only the medical center in the suit. The two settlement agreements contained releases that incorporated the complaint and pleadings and that purportedly also released various associates of the pediatrician and orthopedist who could be found vicariously liable, but expressly stated it did not release the medical center for negligence.

The medical center filed for summary judgment after the releases were executed. The trial court permitted extrinsic evidence to show the parties’ intent in executing the releases and entered partial summary judgment with respect to the claims that the medical center was vicariously liable.

The appellate court determined that there was nothing ambiguous in the releases, which explicitly did not release the medical center and which incorporated the complaint that alleged the medical center was vicariously liable. The appellate court also found that the medical center had a non-delegable duty to care for the minor competently. While the medical center claimed the mother had released it from liability, there was an issue of fact as to whether the mother had viewed or signed the provisions that discharged the liability of the medical center. If there is a material issue of fact, as the appellate court found here, a case must go to the jury for a decision.

Doctors, nurses and hospitals owe a duty of care to their patients to behave reasonably and as other similar medical professionals would when treating the patients who trust them. If you or a loved one have been injured and suffered due to a medical professional’s negligence or carelessness, call the experienced South Florida medical malpractice attorneys of Friedman, Rodman & Frank for a consultation at 877-448-8585. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All consultations are free and confidential.


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