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Florida Court Sides With University of Miami, Says It’s Immune To Medical Malpractice Suit

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On October 28, 2020, a Florida appeals court tossed out a medical malpractice suit accusing a University of Miami doctor of providing negligent treatment at a public teaching hospital. A panel of the Florida Third District Court of Appeal upheld a circuit judge’s ruling that the university is protected by sovereign immunity when faculty members provide care at Jackson Memorial Hospital, a teaching hospital.

Background of the Suit.

The ruling arose out of a case in which a University of Miami physician provided treatment in 2013 to a patient at Jackson Memorial. A medical malpractice lawsuit was filed against parties including Jackson Memorial, the university, and the physician. The suit alleged that a failure to provide anticoagulants resulted in disabilities.

Jackson Memorial Hospital is owned and operated by Miami-Dade County through the Public Health Trust. It is supported by Miami-Dade County residents through a portion of the county’s sales tax.  Because of this, it is considered to be the same as a state agency, and its employees have the same sovereign immunity as state employees do.

The judge dismissed the suit against the doctor, saying that because the doctor provided services at the public teaching hospital, pursuant to the University’s agreement with Jackson Memorial, he should be considered an agent of the hospital. Therefore, he is entitled to sovereign immunity.

Pointing to state law and an agreement with Jackson Memorial, the university also argued that it was shielded by immunity from liability.  The university claimed it was entitled to immunity under Sections 768.28(9)(a) and (10)(f), Florida Statutes.  Since any liability the university had would be vicarious liability based on the alleged negligence of the physician, if the physician was determined to be immune, the university would have the same defense.

Additionally, Section 768.28, Florida Statutes, was amended by the Florida Legislature in 2011 to cover nonprofit independent universities that provide patient care at government-owned teaching hospitals. The same year, Jackson Memorial and Miami University amended the terms of their agreement to incorporate the amended sovereign immunity statute, according to the judge’s opinion in the case.

The Trial Court’s Ruling.

The appellate court panel agreed with the circuit judge, saying it was undisputed that the doctor was a University of Miami faculty member and employee at the time of the treatment. Additionally, the agreement between Jackson Memorial and the University of Miami was properly redrafted in 2011 to reflect the amendment to the statute.  “Under the terms of the 2011 agreement and section 768.28, Florida Statutes, the university is immune from suit here because the physician treated the patient while acting as Jackson’s statutory agent,” the appellate panel said in the opinion.

Click here to read the court’s opinion in full.

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“State Appeals Court: University Of Miami Shielded From Medical Malpractice Lawsuit.” Miami CBS Local. (October 28, 2020). Web.

Kang, Peter. “Fla. Court Says Univ. Of Miami Immune To Med Mal Suit.” Law360. (October 28, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

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