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Fourth DCA Reverses Summary Judgment for Hospital and Remands for Reconsideration of Punitive Damages

March 21, 2011
Bonnie Navin

The Fourth DCA recently reversed a trial court’s order granting summary judgment for a defendant hospital in a medical malpractice action.  In so doing, the appellate court held that it was error to grant the hospital’s motion for summary judgment, where the hospital failed to establish that there was no issue of fact regarding causation.  The Court noted that the trial court had apparently misplaced the burden upon the plaintiff by equating the plaintiff’s burden in a summary judgment motion to that which would be required to overcome a motion for directed verdict at trial.  The Court held that summary judgment is only appropriate where the record affirmatively shows that the plaintiff cannot possibly prove his/her case, and concluded that the fact that the plaintiff has simply failed to come forward with sufficient evidence to prove his/her case is not grounds for summary judgment.

The Fourth DCA further noted that it was remanding the case in order to allow the trial court to reconsider the plaintiff’s motion to amend to add a claim for punitive damages.  The Court noted that it appeared that the trial court had decided the motion, not on its merits, but on the fact that the motion was untimely, in that the plaintiff had apparently filed its motion to amend for punitive damages only four days before trial.  Webster v. Martin Memorial Medical Center, 2011 Fla. App. LEXIS 2656 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011).