Florida Appellate Court Allows Representative in Wrongful Death Action to Pursue Lawsuit Against Defendant Hospital

When you file a Florida wrongful death action, the allegations themselves must meet certain criteria set by statutes and case law. The defending party must have notice of the allegations against them in order to appropriately prepare a defense for themselves. The allegations are all written in a complaint, which is filed with the civil court that has jurisdiction over the matter. These complaints must dictate a cause of action supported by law.

The Second District recently reviewed the dismissal of a complaint in Case No. 2D16-3615, filed by the personal representative of an estate against a hospital with allegations of vicarious liability, breach of a non-delegable duty, and negligence. The representative filed suit against several doctors and health care providers under the theory the deceased died from complications following a surgery at the defendant hospital to repair a hernia and succeeding procedures provided by other physicians at other hospitals. The trial court dismissed the case against the hospital where the first procedure was performed, and the estate appealed.

The deceased sought care from the defendant hospital, undergoing a procedure to repair his paraesophageal hernia. The surgeon used a surgical robot provided by the defendant hospital. During the operation, a part of the robot detached and became embedded in the deceased’s esophagus, causing complications to his health over the following months and years. An exploratory procedure was performed at a different facility three years later to assess the cause of the worsening symptoms. This was ultimately unsuccessful. Another exploratory surgery was performed at the same hospital, where the deceased’s vena cava vein was ruptured, leading to a large loss of blood, a heart attack, and finally his death. An autopsy revealed a small coil around the gastroesophageal junction, leading the representative to believe a part of the robot was left inside the patient at the original operation. The representative additionally alleged the foreign object last was seen at a CT scan prior to the second surgery.

The estate filed several amended complaints against the hospital and the surgeon performing the initial operation. The first count of this fourth amended complaint alleged the hospital was liable for negligence related to a non-delegable duty, the second count alleged the hospital was negligent in their maintenance of the robot, the third count was against the physician for his malpractice, and the fourth was for the hospital’s liability as an employer of the negligent physician. A fifth count was also a part of the complaint, alleging the staff failed to make sure nothing remained in the deceased’s body, failed to attend training to learn how to use the robot, and failed to follow the hospital’s own guidelines that required training in using the robot to learn how to make sure all of the parts were counted properly. The hospital argued the fourth amended complaint was just another attempt to state claims against the hospital. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, agreeing the amendment was barred by the statute of limitations.

The appellate court determined the lower court dismissed the lawsuit in error, finding the amended complaint was sufficient to show a cause of action under the legal theory of respondeat superior. Florida case law allows entities to be held liable for the negligent actions of their employees and the actions of independent contractors if the patient reasonably believed the physician or staff member to be an employee. The court felt this was met by the language of the complaint in its various related accounts. It also found the estate sufficiently stated claims of negligence and breach of its non-delegable duty. The Court of Appeal backed the estate in its claim of negligence against a hospital, pointing to case law that affirmed the legislature did not abolish the ability to sue a health care entity for ordinary negligence. The Second District concluded the complaint was not defective, reversed the order dismissing the counts against the hospital, and remanded the proceeding back to the trial court.

In a Florida wrongful death action, you want experienced counsel at your side. The lawyers at Donaldson & Weston are skilled litigators who can maximize the damages you receive. Call today for a free, confidential consultation at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.

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