Fla. Court Says Hospitals Not Responsible for Docs Without Insurance

May 30, 2007

Hospitals cannot be held liable in medical malpractice cases for failing to ensure doctors with staff privileges meet state financial responsibility requirements through insurance or other means, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled.

The unanimous ruling disapproved of decisions by three of the state’s five district courts of appeal on that issue. The justices, instead, sided with the 4th District Court of Appeal in a Broward County case.

While state law says physicians must establish financial responsibility as a condition of staff privileges, it does not require hospitals to enforce that mandate, Justice Barbara Pariente wrote for the court.

Instead, it’s up to physicians to comply or else face sanctions including possible license revocation, she wrote. Also, insurance companies must notify the state if a doctor’s policy is canceled or not renewed.

In the first of the disapproved cases, the 5th District Court of Appeal construed various sections of law to conclude it was “the obvious intent of the Legislature” to permit injured parties to collect at least $250,000 from hospitals that fail to enforce the requirement. The other two appellate courts followed that precedent.

That may be sound public policy but it’s not what the “actual language” of the law, Pariente wrote.

The 4th District acknowledged it was out of step with the other appellate courts in rejecting a claim against Plantation General Hospital by Stuart and Lena Horowitz after the couple won a malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Derek V. Jhagroo. He amputated Lena Horowitz’s right thumb after it had become infected.

They were unable to collect the $859,200 judgment because Jhagroo left the country, had no real property in the United States and lacked malpractice insurance.

A trial judge relied on the prior appellate decisions to order Plantation to pay the first $250,000, but the 4th District Court reversed that ruling.

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