Monday, August 7, 2017

Florida Supreme Court Does Not Allow Insurer to Pursue Claims against Doctor

by Darryl Ervin Rouson, Esq.

It is important at Dolman Law Group to know the laws affecting full recovery. Injuries sustained in a car accident do not necessarily stop at the site of the crash. Further injuries may also incur on the way to the hospital or even once a person is under medical care. If an individual’s negligence caused a car accident, they may be responsible not only for injuries to another person from the crash, but also any injuries that person suffered while being treated for the initial injuries, including medical malpractice. The theory behind this is that the injured party would not be in the hospital to begin with if it wasn’t for the negligence of the person who caused the crash. 

The Supreme Court of Florida ruled this month that an at-fault driver, or their insurance company, cannot sue the injured party’s medical provider before the at-fault driver has fully paid a judgment against them. In this case, Holmes Regional Medical Center, Inc. v. Allstate InsuranceCo., a male on a scooter, Benjamin Hintz, was hit by a negligent driver, Emily Boozer. Mr. Hintz was injured and taken to the hospital where he suffered further injuries due to medical negligence. Hintz sued Boozer and was awarded $11.1 million for injuries. Hintz then sued the hospital for medical malpractice and Boozer, the at-fault driver, then tried to enter as a party to the case. 

If an individual is hurt in a car accident, that was not their fault, they can file a personal injury claim against whomever caused the accident and may be able to recover monetary damages. If the party that caused the accident has insurance, their insurance company may be responsible for paying some, or all, of the damages. Furthermore, Florida is a contributory negligence state. That means if one party is 70 percent at fault for the accident and you are 30 percent at fault you can still recover damages, but they will be reduced by the percentage you were at fault. 

In this case, the injured party filed a personal injury claim against the driver and the jury awarded him almost $15 million dollars, which was reduced to $11.1 million dollars due to comparative negligence. The driver’s insurance paid $1.1 million, but the driver nor the insurance company paid the remaining $10 million judgment.

After the verdict from the personal injury claim, the injured party filed a medical malpractice suit against the hospital. The driver of the car, and her insurance company, intervened in the law suit as parties seeking equitable subordination. Equitable subordination would lower the claim for the driver based on damages recoverable from the medical provider. The theory of equitable subordination is that an at-fault party required to pay a legal judgment should be given some financial assistance with the payment by another party that may have been partially at fault. 

The trial court initially dismissed the driver and insurance company because their $11.1 million verdict was not paid in full. However, the 5th District Court of Appeals reversed and allowed them to come in as a party of the suit because the verdict had been entered against them, whether or not it had been paid. The injured party and hospital appealed to the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court of Florida ruled that although an at-fault driver may seek equity from a negligent doctor, the at-fault driver must have fully paid their claim before doing so. Therefore, before the driver here seeks money from the hospital for any damages they were responsible for, the driver must first pay the $11.1 million judgment against her. 

The injured party has the right to sue both the at-fault driver and the hospital because the wrongful acts were separate. Additionally, the Court noted that the injured party has a right to a judgment against the driver as well as the hospital as long as there is only one recovery.

If you've been involved in a car accident or the victim of medical malpractice, contact the experienced attorneys at Dolman Law Group for your free case evaluation.

Dolman Law Group
Clearwater-St. Petersburg-New Port Richey-Sarasota