A Florida appellate court on December 27, 2013 decided a case involving the medical malpractice settlement on behalf of the young malpractice victim (the parents’ medical malpractice complaint alleged that a Florida doctor had failed to timely diagnose and treat their son’s eye condition, which resulted in substantial loss of vision). The doctor’s medical malpractice insurance company settled the claim with the parents, and the parents dismissed their medical malpractice case after they received payment, without the doctor’s consent to the settlement.
The doctor objected to the settlement and the trial court held a hearing to consider the doctor’s objection. At the hearing, the trial court denied the doctor’s objection and approved the settlement.
Here’s The Weird Part
The doctor who was sued for medical malpractice also happened to be a licensed lawyer. The doctor was not satisfied with the defense that her medical malpractice insurance company was providing (the insurance company hired an attorney to defend the doctor in the malpractice case) and entered her own appearance as co-counsel on behalf of herself and her medical practice. The trial court found that the doctor’s manner of participation in the defense was disruptive and therefore the trial court entered an order that severely restricted the doctor’s activities in the court proceedings.
The doctor appealed the trial court’s order that restricted her participation in the proceedings, alleging that the order violated her right to represent herself and her medical practice as co-counsel, and further appealed the order that approved the settlement. The doctor alleged in her appeals that she was aggrieved because the trial court orders permitted the settlement without her consent (the doctor alleged that she had a contractual right or a statutory right to control the settlement).
The appellate court determined that the order denying the doctor’s objection to the settlement was not a final, appealable order (the order enforcing the settlement did not require the doctor to take any action or to make any payment; the doctor was not required to sign a release or to stipulate to dismissal; the case was voluntarily dismissed; and, no final judgment was ever entered based on the order that enforced the settlement). The appellate court further determined that the order denying the doctor’s objection to the settlement was not an interlocutory order that was appealable under Florida law.
While an order approving a settlement for a minor is appealable, the appellate court held that the purpose of an order approving a minor’s settlement is not to protect any legal right a defendant may have to control settlement but rather to protect the interests of the minor and the guardian and to ensure that any release given on behalf of the minor is legally effective. Therefore, the appellate court held that the doctor was not aggrieved in a legal sense by the trial court’s decision that the settlement paid by the doctor’s malpractice insurer is in the best interests of the minor child.
The appellate court’s conclusion that the doctor was not actually aggrieved by the trial court orders meant that the doctor had no right to appeal them or for the appellate court to consider the claims: if the doctor believes that her insurer breached the insurance contract or violated a statutory obligation that the insurer owed to the doctor, she could bring a lawsuit against her insurer but she cannot delay the settlement between the insurer and the minor child.
Source McLaughlin, et al. v. Lara, et al., District Court of Appeal of Florida Second District, Case No. 2D13-1684 and Case No. 2D13-4631 (consolidated).
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