The Florida Supreme Court has turned down a request by defendants in University of Miami v. Ruiz to review an appellate court decision to allow a university to be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees in connection with a birth injury back in 1998.
Defendants had asked that the court find error with the Third District Court of Appeals’ ruling that the university was not entitled to immunity under Florida’s Birth-Related Neurological Injury act, F.S. 766.301, because its employee physicians failed to inform the family of the program, as they were legally required to do. The no-fault state program provides compensation in cases where children are injured at birth, and shields doctors and hospitals from liability in some cases.
The child was born in August 1998 in a maternity center in Miami at a hospital owned by the Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County. The school employed two OB/GYN doctors who provided obstetrical services to the child’smother during the birth. The boy had suffered severe brain injury as a result of oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery.
The boy’s parents filed a complaint on behalf of their son and themselves against both the hospital and the university alleging their son’s Miami birth injuries were the result of negligent medical care in the course of labor and delivery. Plaintiffs asserted the university and hospital were both directly and vicariously liable for the actions of those doctors. (No action was taken against doctors personally.)
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, an administrative law judge was asked to ascertain whether the child’s injuries were compensable under NICA. Plaintiffs filed a claim with the association, and the administrative law judge did find the boy’s injuries were compensable under the act. That gave him the state maximum award of $100,000, which was in addition to attorney’s fees and future medical care costs. Further, the ALJ found that while the hospital had given notice of NICA to the family, the doctors had not. No finding was entered as to whether those doctors were required to do so.
The university appealed that decision, but the Third District affirmed that order.
While that decision solidified family’s right to receive NICA benefits, they had not yet accepted nor declined the award, instead choosing to hold their decision in abeyance while pursuing a civil lawsuit against the university (which, if successful, would likely result in a significantly higher amount of compensation).
At that point, university filed a motion for summary judgment claiming immunity under the NICA statute, which holds that compensation from the association is the exclusive remedy for injuries that are compensable under the act. The school further stated that because it isn’t a participating hospital or doctor, it wasn’t required to give notice under the statute.
Plaintiffs countered the doctors are employed by the university, they were required to give notice and thus, the university could be held vicariously liable and the university isn’t immune.
Trial court denied the university’s motion for summary judgment on this issue, and the appeals court affirmed that denial. The university then appealed the denial to the Florida Supreme Court.
In a recent ruling, justices declined to offer review, which means the appellate court’s affirmation of trial court’s ruling will stand. That means plaintiffs may now continue their birth injury lawsuit against the school.
This case reveals how long and convoluted the birth injury lawsuit process may be. Victims need a dedicated, compassionate and skilled attorney to walk them through the process every step of the way.
If you have been a victim of a birth injury in Miami, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
University of Miami v. Ruiz , Dec. 31, 2015, Florida Supreme Court
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