Mistake in name of malpractice defendant not basis to throw out suit
Florida’s Second District holds that a suit naming hospital auxiliary instead of the hospital as the defendant was a mere misnomer and that an amended complaint naming the correct defendant related back to the time of filing the original complaint. A plaintiff whose stroke was allegedly misdiagnosed sued two doctors and attempted to sue the hospital involved, as well. Instead of naming the hospital, however, the complaint named the hospital auxiliary, a separate corporation which apparently provided support services to the hospital, but no medical care. The auxiliary’s answer contained a general denial, as well as an affirmative defense stating it was “not a proper party to this action,” without explanation. After over ten months of discovery, during which time the statute of limitations expired, the auxiliary filed a motion for summary judgment. The motion revealed for the first time that the auxiliary was not the proper defendant, as it was not a healthcare provider and did not employ healthcare professionals. The parties entered a stipulation to substitute the hospital for the auxiliary, but the stipulation specifically provided that the hospital was not waiving its affirmative defenses, including that of the statute of limitations. Once the amended complaint naming the hospital as a defendant was filed, the hospital filed its own motion for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations, which the trial court granted. The Second District Court of Appeal reversed, finding that the amended complaint substituting the hospital related back to the original complaint because the hospital knew or should have known of the mistake and was not prejudiced. Some of the factors the Court considered in reaching that conclusion were that the auxiliary and hospital had similar names and shared a physical address and legal counsel, and the auxiliary listed the hospital’s physical address as its mailing address and the address of its registered agent in its filings with the Department of State. Furthermore, the Court found, the auxiliary had engaged in “extensive discovery aimed at prolonging matters until the statute of limitations had expired.” The Court specifically found that the auxiliary’s affirmative defense that it was “not a proper party” was insufficient to put the plaintiff on notice without any supporting facts, especially given the auxiliary’s subsequent participation in discovery.
May v. HCA Health Services of Florida, Inc., __ So. 3d __, 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 6454 (2d DCA 5-1-2015).