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University of Miami Hospital denied NICA immunity

Florida appellate court rules university hospital not required to provide NICA notice in order to assert NICA immunity in medical malpractice action based on its own alleged direct negligence; however, it was not entitled to NICA immunity on vicarious liability counts based on alleged negligence of doctor employees where doctors waived immunity by failing to give proper notice. Parents filed a medical malpractice lawsuit after their child suffered severe neurological injuries at birth. The parents alleged direct negligence by the Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County, which owned the hospital where the child was born. The parents also sued the University of Miami, which employed two allegedly negligent obstetricians involved in the birth, and alleged both vicarious liability for the obstetricians and direct negligence by the University. Both defendants raised NICA immunity as an affirmative defense, and the case was abated so that an Administrative Law Judge could determine NICA compensability. The ALJ found that the child’s injuries were compensable under NICA and that the Public Health Trust had provided proper NICA notice as required by §766.316, Florida Statutes. The ALJ found that the two obstetricians had failed to provide proper notice, and made no finding either way as to whether the University had given notice or was required to. The University appealed the ALJ’s finding regarding the doctors’ lack of proper notice, but the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed in the University of Miami v. Ruiz, 916 So. 2d 865 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005). The plaintiffs then abated their NICA case, neither accepting the award nor declining it, while they continued their medical malpractice suit against the University only. (Because the Public Health Trust was found to have given adequate NICA notice, it was immune from further civil suit.) The University filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that it was entitled to NICA immunity from suit, as it was not required by the NICA statutes to give notice. The trial court denied the motion without explanation. The University petitioned for a writ of certiorari, which the Third District Court of Appeal granted in part and denied in part. The Third District found that because the University was not a participating hospital or physician, it was not required to provide notice of NICA participation. Furthermore, the Third District found that the University was entitled to NICA immunity in regard to its alleged direct involvement in the labor and delivery and direct negligence. However, the Third District found that the University was not entitled to NICA immunity in regard to plaintiffs’ vicarious liability claims because the University could only raise immunity for those claims to the extent that the directly liable obstetrician employees could have.
University of Miami d/b/a University of Miami School of Medicine v. Ruiz, __ So. 3d __, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D 416 (3d DCA 2-11-15).

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