Florida Supreme Court Discusses Payment of $11 Million in Damages in Severe Head Injury Car Accident Case

Anyone who suffers a severe accident in Florida needs a tremendous amount of funds to cover the cost of living with expensive and on-going medical care. The circumstances around an accident dictate the number of avenues of relief available to the plaintiff. If there is more than one party responsible for the injuries, liability and damages can be divided among the parties – including the injured party. Determining who pays which amount can extend beyond assigning percentages. Sometimes injuries are compounded by another party in a separate, subsequent incident.

This is seen in a recent Florida Supreme Court case, which asks whether the defendants could seek the difference in damages from another allegedly responsible party after they were held liable at trial. The injured party suffered serious head trauma after an automobile collided with his scooter. His guardian alleged that in addition to the injury caused by the negligent driver, he suffered medical negligence by the care providers he saw immediately after the accident. The guardian first tried the allegations against the driver and her father and successfully blocked the jury from considering whether the medical negligence was a contributing cause to the injuries. The father and daughter were found liable for the injuries, and a judgment was entered for a little over $11 million.

The defendant driver was using an insured vehicle owned by her father. After the judgment was entered, the policy limit of $1.1 million was paid by the insurer, but the remaining $10 million was left unpaid by the father and daughter. The guardian then filed a separate medical malpractice action against the medical provider defendants for the same injuries. The father and daughter were allowed to intervene, and both the injured person and the family defendants sought equitable subrogation, or payment and liability in the place of the other defendants, from the medical providers. The medical providers sought dismissal of the lawsuits, arguing neither the insurer nor the father and daughter were entitled to subrogation, since they did not pay the damages in full.

The trial court agreed, and the original defendants appealed. Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal determined that subrogation was available, finding equitable subrogation is available as long as the payment has been made OR a judgment has been entered that reflects the victim’s entire damages. The Fifth District felt that it was important to weigh the need for the injured person to be made whole against the need for liability to be correctly apportioned. The district appellate court reasoned that other Florida courts have allowed subrogation claims to move forward on a contingent basis, and it felt the same concept should be applied in this matter.

In the present appeal, the medical providers countered that this goes against long-standing Florida precedent, which holds that subrogation is only available when the injured party has been compensated in full. The driver of the car and the insurer both maintained that equitable subrogation is flexible, and liability must be apportioned among all negligent actors.

The Supreme Court did not agree with the Fifth District’s distinction between the underlying case and earlier decisions, determining the Fifth District ignored the fact the victims had been fully compensated by the initial tortfeasor in those cases. The language stating equitable subrogation claims exist once the judgment has been entered is dicta, or without any precedential weight. The court felt the attempt by the insurer and the driver to step into their liability role would preclude the double recovery opportunity available to the injured person. The court overturned the Fifth District’s decision and remanded the case to reinstate the dismissal of the equitable subrogation claims.

The South Florida car accident attorneys at Donaldson & Weston will aggressively pursue all of the damages available from all of the responsible parties. Contact our office today for a free, confidential consultation at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Appellate Court Reviews Future Medical Expenses in Multi-Car Accident Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 28, 2016

Federal Circuit Court of Appeal Declines to Find Equitable Tolling in Slip and Fall Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 21, 2016

Florida Court of Appeal Allows Injured Motorist to Pursue Additional PIP Payments to Medical Providers, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, May 18, 2017