Florida’s doctor loving governor Rick Scott has signed a new law that gives sovereign immunity protection to private university physicians who treat patients at public hospitals. This means that doctors who work for the University of Miami a private university and my Alma mater are given the same legal protection from medical malpractice law suits as though they were employed by the State of Florida.
In my opinion, as a lawyer who sues Florida doctors and hospitals, it is a dangerous and unnecessary layer of protection. Florida doctors already enjoy statutory caps on damages, a nearly impossible maze or presuit-requirements, a shortened statute of limitations and are permitted to practice medicine without medical malpractice insurance. Apparently those legal advantages were not enough for Governor Rick Scott, Florida’s doctors, and UM President Donna E. Shalala.
I do not understand why private medical schools working with public teaching hospitals need to have sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is found in Florida’s Statute Section 768.28 and provides a limitation on the amount of damages an injured person can obtain from a “governmental agency.” Florida’s sovereign immunity statute limits the amount of money for damages to $200,000.00 per person or $300,000.00 per claim. That means that no matter what damage is caused, from a hospital bed sore or wrong-site surgery or death, the amount of a potential claim is limited.
Florida’s Sovereign Immunity Statute was amended to now include teaching hospitals for private universities, like the University of Miami School of Medicine, when the teaching hospital is either owned or operated by the state, a county, municipality, a public health trust, a special taxing district, a governmental entity having health care responsibilities, or a not-for-profit entity that operates such facility as an agent of the state. ,
The teaching hospitals, the medical schools, or employees must now provide specific notice to each patient that the entity that runs the medical school that the provider is acting as an agent of the teaching hospital. In addition, they must advise patients that the only legal rights they may have for an injury or death suffered as the result of medical malpractice will be subject to sovereign immunity. This notice requirement may be met by posting the notice in a place conspicuous to all persons. I doubt that many patients will understand the significance of this change or will have a meaningful opportunity to find alternative care at a private hospital.
President Shalala stated that “teaching hospitals like ours get the rarest and most medically challenging cases … and they need to be able to attract and retain the full spectrum of top specialists.That’s the importance of this legislation for us.” I hardly think this is a reason to provide them this unnecessary protection.
The savings in medical malpractice payouts by the University of Miami are expected to total over $20 million dollars. Yet to date, none of the savings have been passed on to Jackson Memorial Hospital. This has raised considerable criticism by Florida Representative Carlos Lopez-Cantera who finds it odd that UM would not pass on some of this new- found money to cash-strapped Jackson Memorial Hospital who supported the passing of the bill.
In the end, our Dade-County hospital injury law firm believes both patients of Jackson Memorial Hospital and injured victims of medical malpractice caused by UM –or any protected doctors– will suffer from this outrageous and unnecessary new law.
Section 768.28 is also known as Florida’s Waiver of sovereign immunity in tort actions; recovery limits; limitation on attorney fees; statute of limitations; exclusions; indemnification; risk management programs.