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FL Supreme Court Allows Parents to Pursue Birth Injury Case

Courtroom JusticeThe Florida Supreme Court has denied an appeal in a birth injury case, allowing the plaintiffs to pursue their lawsuit against the University of Miami.

The defendants in the complaint had asked the court to find fault with a decision by an appellate court that allowed the defendant to be held “vicariously liable” for actions of its employees that were associated with a birth injury in 1998. The state Supreme Court turned down that appeal, which means the defendants can still be held liable for the actions of their employees.

Original lawsuit alleges medical negligence

The original lawsuit was filed by the plaintiff parents in 2005, when they alleged that negligence by obstetricians overseeing the birth of their child resulted in the child’s brain damage due to oxygen deprivation during the labor and delivery process. The child was born at Jackson North Maternity Center in Dade County in 1998 and the physicians overseeing the birth were employees of the University of Miami.

The defendants countered, stating the child’s injuries were eligible for compensation under Florida’s Birth-Related Neurological Injury Act (NICA), which made the physicians named in the medical malpractice lawsuit immune to legal action. However, plaintiffs argued that they were not informed of the program by their physicians, as required under state law.

What is NICA?

NICA was established to provide compensation for parents of children born with some types of neurological injuries. The purpose of the act was to eliminate legal proceedings against physicians and medical facilities responsible for these birth injuries. At the same time, it provides much-needed financial support to families that will need to provide ongoing medical services and other types of support to families of children who suffered debilitating brain damage at birth.

An administrative law judge initially ruled in this case that the injured child would have been eligible for NICA benefits. However, because the physicians in charge of the child’s birth had not notified the family of their eligibility, the appropriate benefits were not pursued.

The family then filed a civil lawsuit against the physicians and their employer, the University of Miami, in an effort to pursue compensation desperately needed to care for their child.

The issue of vicarious liability

The appeals court initially ruled that while the university could not be held directly liable, it could be held liable for the acts by its employees under what is known as vicarious liability. Vicarious liability refers to the liability that a supervisor or employer bears for an employee. This negates the immunity asserted by the defendants and allows the plaintiffs to move forward with their complaint.

Although the family was determined to be eligible for NICA under state law, the maximum compensation they could have received under the act was $100,000, in addition to legal costs and expenses for future medical care.

This amount would not be considered sufficient for addressing severe birth injuries in most children, particularly those born with significant brain damage. Families often find expenses for a child with these types of conditions far exceed this maximum and they can receive more by pursuing legal action against the parties responsible for those injuries.

The Supreme Court decision affirms the decision of the appellate court, which means the plaintiffs can now continue their pursuit of a civil lawsuit against the plaintiffs.

  1. CBS Miami, Justices Turn Down University of Miami Liability Case,

  2. Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association,

  3. FSU Library, Supreme Court of Florida,