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University of Miami Faces Vicarious Liability in Brain Injury Case

court houseThe Florida Supreme Court has declined a request to review a dispute regarding malpractice liability on the part of two doctors at the University of Miami. The case revolves around a brain injury suffered by a now 17-year old boy during his childbirth at Jackson North Maternity Center.

After the birth injury in 1998, the boy’s parents took their grievances to court by filing suit against the University, which had the two attending physicians in its employ.

The university asked the Third District Court of Appeal for “certiorari relief” from an order denying its motion for summary judgment on the claimant’s charges of medical negligence in the delivery of their child. The University of Miami contended that it was entitled to immunity from legal action under Florida’s Birth-Related Neurological Injury Act (NICA).

NICA is a no-fault alternative system for birth-related neurological injuries that result in the need for costly and life-long treatment. The act offers remedies for injured plaintiffs who meet NICA’s specifications, and forbids claimants from pursuing civil malpractice actions against any individual who was directly involved with the delivery or post-natal care, during which brain damage occurred. Under NICA, patients must be alerted immediately if doctors or hospitals participate in the no-fault plan.

Supreme Court declines malpractice case

According to CBS Miami, an administrative judge ruled that the child’s neurological injuries were indeed covered through Florida’s Birth-Related Neurological Injury Act, but that the two physicians accused of negligence failed to give the family notice in their participation in NICA. Accordingly, the parents filed a civil claim seeking monetary restitution.

The appeals court ultimately ruled that the University of Miami could not be held directly liable in the birth injury case. However, given that the two physicians failed to provide requisite notice to the claimants about their participation in the no-fault program, they waived their immunity under NICA. The Third District said the university could be held vicariously liable for the actions of its physicians.

This ruling impelled the university to ask the Florida Supreme Court to review the dispute last July. At the end of December, 2015, Justices of the court declined the petition.

NICA – Florida’s alternative to birth injury litigation

Passed into legislation in 1988, Florida’s NICA program aims to ensure that infants who suffered catastrophic brain injury at birth get the medical care needed, while reducing the financial burden on families and health care providers.

For qualified participants, the program may offer compensation for medical services, necessary medication, rehabilitation and equipment, facilities, and related travel expenses.

In addition, NICA provides the following remedies:

  • A one-time cash award (maximum $100,000) made to the child’s parents or guardians
  • Legal costs and expenses for filing the claim, inclusive of attorney fees
  • A $10,000 death benefit for the infant

Once accepted into the NICA program, the child is guaranteed life-time care and is expressly prohibited from seeking damages from a medical malpractice lawsuit or settlement.

In order to meet the criteria for the system, the infant must have sustained injury to the brain or spinal cord during birth at a hospital, and the injury must have been a result of oxygen deprivation or “mechanical injury during labor, delivery or resuscitation immediately after delivery.” In addition, the infant must be diagnosed with permanent mental and physical impairments.