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Public Health Trust Is Not Immune From Suit Through Sovereign Immunity Or Florida’s Good Samaritan Act

October 5, 2011
Bonnie Navin

Last week, the Third District Court of Appeal denied a petition for certiorari filed by The Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County.   The appeal stemmed from a trial order denying the Trust’s motion for summary judgment on its defense of sovereign immunity and the Trust’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, alleging it was immune from suit under Florida’s Good Samaritan Act.

The underlying suit involved allegations of negligence in the quadruple amputation of a three year old girl.   The Plaintiffs claim that physicians and staff failed to act quickly enough- in the first hour and a half or more of the young girl’s arrival at the hospital- to provide her with appropriate fluids and antibiotics, which they contend would have avoided the need for the amputations.

The Trust filed a motion for summary judgment, because one of the other named state hospital defendants had previously settled the case against it for $200,000. The Trust argued that, because $200,000 is the statutory cap under Fla. Stat. 768.28(5), it had sovereign immunity, to the extent that it could be found liable to pay any additional damages.

The Third DCA rejected this contention, holding that the trial court was correct in denying summary judgment as to this issue.   The Court explained that it is “by no means certain at this time that the Trust’s alleged negligence ‘arose out of the same incident or occurrence’ as did the [claim against the other state entity] now settled.”  The Third DCA further explained that, even if the Plaintiffs had been paid the maximum statutory amount permitted under the statute, “the trial court still has jurisdiction to enter a judgment against the Trust for purposes of supporting a potential claims bill to the legislature.” 

The Third DCA found the Trust’s other argument likewise unavailing.  The Trust sought review of the trial court’s denial of its judgment on the pleadings, due its assertion that it was immune from suit under Florida’s Good Samaritan Act, Fla. Stat. 768.13 (2004).  This statute provides that hospitals shall not be held liable for civil damages as a result of emergency medical care, unless such treatment demonstrates “a reckless disregard for the consequences so as to affect the life or health of another.”  Rejecting the use of the Act to invoke sovereign immunity, the Court held that the Good Samaritan Act may provide the Trust with a defense from liability, but it does not provide it sovereign immunity from suit.

The Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County v. Shaniah Rolle, et. al., ___ So.3d____ (Fla. 3d DCA 2011).