Florida Appellate Court Construes Term "Legal Relationship" in Med-Mal Presuit Screening Rule

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On January 3, 2014, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal held, in a case of first impression, that a medical malpractice plaintiff’s direct notice to a medical provider of its intent to sue would also operate as notice to a physician who was an independent contractor of the medical provider.  To read the full opinion click here

In Young v. Naples Community Hospital, Inc., No. 2D12-3679, 2014 WL 26040 (Fla. 2d DCA Jan. 3, 2014), the plaintiffs, Mr. and Mrs. Young, brought a medical malpractice action against Naples Community Hospital, Naples Radiologists, the local provider of the hospital’s radiological services, Nighthawk Radiology Services, the company that provided nighttime radiological services for Naples Radiologists, and Jason Grennan, M.D., an independent contractor with Nighthawk.  Mrs. Young went to the hospital complaining of severe abdominal pain.  She underwent a CT scan that was read by Dr. Grennan as “unremarkable.”  After her admission to the hospital, Mrs. Young underwent additional testing which revealed a blood clot that required immediate surgery.  She was discharged on April 12, 2006, following complications in the recovery process. 

The plaintiffs alleged that the initial misreading of Mrs. Young’s CT scan by Dr. Grennan was the cause of her complications and that the contractual relationships between all of the defendants resulted in the CT scan going to Dr. Grennan for review.  On April 1, 2008, the plaintiffs gave notice of their intent to initiate a lawsuit to Naples Radiologists and on June 17, 2008, gave their notice of intent to initiate a lawsuit to Nighthawk and Dr. Grennan.  On August 28, 2008, the plaintiffs sued all defendants, who moved for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiffs failed to serve their notices of intent within the two-year statute of limitations.  The trial court denied the motions of the hospital and Naples Radiologists, but granted the joint motion of Nighthawk and Dr. Grennan.  In its order, the trial court determined that the plaintiffs were required to file their notice of intent by May 8, 2008 and that the plaintiffs’ June 17, 2008 notice to Nighthawk and Dr. Grennan was untimely.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that their notice to Naples Radiologists on April 1, 2008 constituted timely notice to Nighthawk and Dr. Grennan, as Nighthawk and Dr. Grennan were in a “legal relationship” with Naples Radiologists per Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.650.  That rule provides that “notice of intent to initiate litigation sent  . . . to . . . any prospective defendant shall operate as notice to the person and any other prospective defendant who bears a legal relationship to the prospective defendant receiving the notice.” The Second District disagreed with the position of Nighthawk and Dr. Grennan that the term “legal relationship” refers only to employees or servants.  The court noted that there is no definition of “legal relationship” in the rule. The court also noted that in their answer to the plaintiffs’ complaint, Nighthawk and Dr. Grennan admitted that Nighthawk had a contractual relationship with Naples Radiologists and that Dr. Grennan was an independent contractor for Nighthawk. The Second District held that these are business relationships defined by the law of contracts that bestow legal rights and legal obligations upon the parties to the relationships.  As such, timely notice to Naples Radiologists was notice to Nighthawk and Dr. Grennan, rendering summary judgment improper as a matter of law.

 

Topics:  Hospitals, Independent Contractors, Medical Malpractice, Physicians

Published In: Civil Procedure Updates, Personal Injury Updates, Professional Malpractice Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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