Florida Supreme Court Erases Medical Malpractice Fees
A Florida man who was injured 19 years ago can finally move on with his life after the Florida Supreme Court erased a $500,000 bill for attorneys’ fees in his medical malpractice case. Ancel Pratt Jr., 37, suffered permanent nerve damage to his arm in 1996 and sued his orthopedic surgeon in addition to the hospital where he was treated. This ruling by the Florida Supreme Court highlights the importance of following procedures in settlement offers and fee apportionment, and it has allowed one man the justice that he deserves.
Facts of the Case
In the case of Pratt v. Weiss, Mr. Pratt sued his surgeon, Dr. Michael C. Weiss, and the Fort Lauderdale hospital where he worked for allegedly committing malpractice. The hospital was sued under the theory of vicarious liability for employing the doctor. Mr. Pratt won his lawsuit against Dr. Weiss, but he lost the case against the hospital after rejecting a $10,000 settlement offer.
Florida law has an “offer of judgment” statute that states that if a party to a lawsuit rejects a reasonable settlement offer and then loses at trial they must pay the winning party’s attorneys’ fees. The hospital submitted fees in excess of $500,000 against Mr. Pratt that the lower courts ordered him to pay. He appealed to the Florida Fourth District appellate court that upheld the ruling. He then appealed again to the Florida Supreme Court.
Ruling of the Florida Supreme Court
The issue in the case revolved around the state’s apportionment rule, a requirement that states that when a joint settlement proposal is made by more than one party the amount and terms of each party must be stated. In this case, the owners of FMC Hospital and FMC Medical Inc. acted as one when making the settlement bid. The appellate court claimed that this was a hyper-technical distinction claim made by Mr. Pratt and ruled that the offer was made on behalf of a single hospital entity responsible. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed.
The Florida Supreme Court took a strict construction of the rule because “it modifies the common law precept that each party is responsible for its own fees.” As such, FMC Hospital and FMC Medical should have each offered their terms and amount of offer in the settlement. This was not the only case that the Florida Supreme Court ruled on that day involving the judgment rule in the state.
A second case, Audiffred v. Arnold, involved two parties that were in a car accident. An additional claim was brought by one of the victims’ husbands who claimed a loss of consortium. His wife won her claims against the other driver but her husband lost after the defendant driver rejected a settlement offer of $17,500 from the wife. The Florida Supreme Court expanded the apportionment rule in that case to include pending claims by or against parties who are not named in the offer.
Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney
If you have questions about how the ruling in this case may affect your medical malpractice claims in the West Palm Beach area, let the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Gary Roberts & Associates help. Call the office or contact us today for a free and confidential consultation of your case.