If you’ve been to a doctor’s office lately, you are probably familiar with the stacks of forms and agreements that usually must be completed before you or your child can be seen. As the Fourth District Court of Appeal explains in Moody v. Lawnwood Medical Center, the terms of this and other paperwork can determine your right to later sue if something goes wrong.

Ms. Moody brought her daughter, S.W. , to a pediatrician after S.W. was injured in a playground accident. The doctor ordered x-rays and, along with a radiologist, determined that S.W. had suffered a hip fracture. He recommended that she be admitted at nearby Lawnwood Medical Center, where he had privileges as an independent contractor.

S.W. was admitted through Lawnwood’s emergency room where Moody signed a “Conditions of Admission” form stating, among other provisions, that Lawnwood was to provide medical services in exchange for payment. On the reverse side of the form were additional terms limiting Lawnwood’s liability for the acts of independent contractor physicians. Moody later denied that she ever read or assented to the terms on the back side of the form.

After evaluating S.W., Lawnwood’s on-call orthopedist determined that she did not have a hip fracture and recommended that she be discharged. The pediatrician completed the discharge.

Moody later brought S.W. to Palms Hospital after her condition worsened. At Palms, she was diagnosed with a number of conditions, including a fractured right hip, septic arthritis and shock, right heart failure and various infections throughout her body. She “was hospitalized for ten weeks and had significant long-term health complications,” according to the court.

Moody filed suit against the pediatrician, the orthopedist – as well as the doctors’ practices – and Lawnwood, alleging that the medical center was both directly liable for its own negligence and vicariously liable for negligence by the doctors.

She later settled her claims against the doctors and their practices. The two settlement agreements included release provisions, providing that the defendants and their “subsidiaries, affiliates, partners, [and] predecessors” were released from any vicarious liability for the doctors’ acts or omissions in their treatment and care of S.W. The agreement specifically stated, however, that they did not release Lawnwood from claims “for their potential negligence” nor “from any claim that is or could be asserted.”

The trial court later granted summary judgment to Lawnwood, finding that Moody’s claims against it were barred under the release agreement. The Fourth District disagreed on appeal. “These documents plainly did not release Lawnwood for its potential liability for the acts of the pediatrician and the orthopedist,” the court explained. As a result, Moody’s direct negligence and vicarious liability claims were appropriate.

Considering Moody’s direct negligence claim, the court further ruled that an issue of fact remained as to whether Lawnwood owed S.W. a non-delegable duty to provide competent medical care that was not discharged when Moody completed the emergency room admission form. Specifically, the court found that it remained unclear whether Moody had read, reviewed and assented to the terms on the reverse side of the document.

The court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.

If you or a loved one was injured by poor medical care, contact the South Florida medical malpractice attorneys at Anidjar & Levine. Our firm represents clients throughout the area, including in Hialeah, Hollywood and Pompano Beach, and offers a free initial consultation from our Fort Lauderdale offices. Call the firm today at 800-747-3733.

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Step One in Florida Medical Malpractice Cases: Who Done It? Saunders v. Dickens

Court Says Hearing Necessary to Determine Whether Florida Medical Malpractice Claim a ‘Sham’ – Reyes v. Roush

Quality, Not Quantity: Expert Witnesses in Florida Medical Malpractice Cases – Duss v. Garcia