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Appeals Court Confirms Medical School Doctors Are Shielded By Immunity From Medical Malpractice

A panel of three judges in the 3rd District Court of Appeals affirmed that a 2011 law in Florida does protect doctors working for the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine from liability in claims of medical malpractice. The plaintiffs had appealed a lower court decision regarding those from the medical school who were practicing at the Jackson Memorial Hospital at the time. The appellate panel agreed that the concept of sovereign immunity applied in this action in order to prevent governmental entities from costly lawsuits.

Two Cases Involved

There were two alleged acts of negligent medical care. The first action involved Latoya Bean, who was pregnant and claimed that the doctors had failed to perform a caesarian section in a timely manner. Bean’s baby had died shortly after delivery. The other case was brought by Fernando Vallecillo, who was a patient that underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his face. Vallecillo ended up permanently losing vision in one eye as a result of the procedure.

Appeals Court

The circuit court found that the doctors were protected by immunity, which prompted an appeal from both plaintiffs. The counsel for the plaintiffs challenged whether the immunity protection was constitutional by insisting that it violated equal protection rights. The challenge in particular was if the medical professionals were truly operating under control of the state because they did not receive state funding.

Understanding the Governmental Relationship

The court reviewed the contract that associated the University of Miami with the Miami-Dade County Public Health Trust. The appeals panel interpreted the terms of the agreement as establishing an agency relationship between the parties. The judges found that the university was “the trust’s agent for purposes of providing patient services” at the facility and was not a violation of the constitution.

Sovereign Immunity in Washington D.C.

The doctrine of sovereign immunity has traditionally applied to government employees and entities. There have been prior cases where both the federal and state court has waived this immunity in personal injury actions. The process of filing such a claim has unique requirements that involve procedures and the timing for bringing a claim. In Washington D.C. the statute of limitations in personal injury claims is generally three years. For governmental claims, this period is reduced to merely six months. In addition, there have been instances where the procedural requirements were not properly completed and left the plaintiff unable to pursue a claim further.

Washington D.C. Procedures

The Notice of Claim is a document that must be used and contain the following information:

  • The claimant’s contact information and proof of citizenship
  • When the incident occurred
  • An explanation of what is believed to have caused the harm
  • The nature and severity of the injuries incurred

Upon receipt, the Office of Risk Management will issue a claim number and begin to research the claim. After review, the office will issue an acceptance or denial for the claim. When bringing these claims for negligence against a governmental body you should retain assistance from experienced legal counsel that is familiar with the local law to help navigate your claim.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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