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University of Miami v. Michael A. Ruiz, Case No. 3D14-2122 (3rd DCA)

In Ruiz, the University of Miami petitioned the Third District for certiorari relief from a trial court order denying its motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims for medical malpractice. UM had argued that it was entitled to immunity from suit under Florida's Birth-Related Neurological Injury Act ("NICA").

Michael Ruiz was born on August 14, 1998, at Jackson North Maternity Center, a hospital owned by the Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County. Two doctors from UM's OB-GYN practice provided obstetrical services to Ruiz's mother during birth. Ruiz suffered a serious brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation during the course of labor and delivery. Ruiz's parents brought suit against UM and the Public Health Trust for medical malpractice. The plaintiff asserted that UM and the Public Health Trust were directly negligent and also pleaded various theories of vicarious liability based on the action of their employees, the two doctors. The case was subsequently abated to allow an administrative law judge to determine whether the injury was compensable under NICA. The administrative law judge found that the injury was compensable under NICA, and that the two doctors had not given the required notice of NICA participation. UM later moved for summary judgment claiming immunity from suit under section 766.303 of NICA.

The Third District noted that the case presented a narrow legal issue -- if and when an entity that is neither a hospital nor a physician participating in the NICA plan may invoke NICA's immunity from suit when its employees are participating doctors who have waived their personal NICA immunity by failing to comply with NICA's notice provision. The court held that NICA immunity applies to such entities when the allegations of the complaint indicate that they were directly involved in the medical care provided during or immediately after labor and delivery, but that NICA immunity does not apply to allegations based on such entities' vicarious liability for the medical malpractice of their employees.

While a party typically cannot invoke an appellate court's certiorari jurisdiction based on the denial of a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment, when the motion hinges on the application of complete statutory motion from suit, requiring a party entitled to that immunity to continue litigating the suit constitutes irreparable harm. The Third District therefore accepted jurisdiction. NICA was passed to provide a no-fault alternative remedy for a limited class of catastrophic birth-related neurological injuries that result in unusually high costs for custodial care and rehabilitation. NICA provides an exclusive set of rights and remedies for claimants with injuries meeting NICA's definition and expressly prohibits claimants from commencing civil medical negligence actions against any person or entity directly involved with the labor, delivery, or immediate postdelivery resuscitation during which such injury occurs. NICA's notice provision requires participating physicians and hospitals with participating physicians to give patients notice that the doctors or hospitals participate in the NICA plan. It is well-established that a party who is required to give notice under NICA and fails to do so waives its right to assert the exclusivity of remedies under NICA.

In reaching its ruling, the Third District noted that the individual doctors had already been found to have failed to provide notice under NICA. Thus, they waived their ability to claim NICA immunity. The plaintiff's complaint alleged both direct and vicarious liability against UM. The Third District ruled that UM is entitled to immunity to the extent the plaintiff pled direct liability against UM. Because UM is neither a hospital with a participating physician on its staff nor a participating physician, it is therefore not required to give notice of NICA participation. Because there is no NICA notice requirement for UM, it cannot have waived any immunity to which it would otherwise be entitled by failing to give notice. Thus, the Third District ruled that the plaintiff may proceed on its theory of direct liability against UM. As for the plaintiff's vicarious liability claim, UM may not invoke NICA's immunity on its own behalf, because the claim is not based on UM's direct involvement. Because UM's vicarious liability is linked to the liability of its employees, it follows that UM can invoke NICA's immunity only to the extent it could assert NICA immunity on behalf of its employees. Given that the individual doctors failed to provide the requisite notice, and therefore waived NICA immunity, UM cannot claim immunity from vicarious liability based on the alleged negligence of its doctors.


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