Tristan Bennett, the minor child of Robert and Tammy Bennett, is permanently and substantially brain damaged as a result of alleged medical malpractice on the part of William H. Long, M.D., and St. Vincent‟s Medical Center, Inc., as well as other medical providers. In a narrow category of cases in which a “birth-related neurological injury” occurs, parents‟ common law rights to sue on behalf of their children for medical malpractice are eliminated and replaced by an administrative remedy that provides limited compensation on a no-fault basis. “Birth-related neurological injury” is defined by statute as “injury to the brain . . . caused by oxygen deprivation . . . occurring in the course of labor, delivery, or resuscitation in the immediate postdelivery period in a hospital, which renders the infant permanently and substantially mentally and physically impaired.” § 766.302(2), Fla. Stat. (2001). The question presented is whether, under the factual circumstances of this case, Tristan Bennett suffered a “birth-related neurological injury,” which would require the Bennetts to obtain limited compensation through the NICA Plan instead of full damages in a court of law. That question can be answered only by interpreting the governing statutory provisions.
The First District held that the Bennetts were limited to the administrative remedy provided by the NICA Plan, reversing the decision of the administrative law judge (ALJ), who found that Tristan did not suffer a “birth-related neurological injury” as defined by the NICA Plan. See Bennett, 27 So. 3d at 66. We conclude that the First District‟s statutory construction analysis of the applicable statute was flawed in two separate ways.
First, the district court interpreted the phrase “immediate postdelivery period in the hospital” to mean “an extended period of days when a baby is delivered with a life-threatening condition and requires close supervision.” Id. at 70. Because the First District failed to read the phrase “immediate postdelivery period” as modifying “resuscitation,” the First District expanded the NICA Plan to cover infants beyond the limit contemplated by the express language of the statute. Second, the First District incorrectly held that under section 766.309(1)(a), Florida Statutes (2001), the rebuttable presumption of coverage under the NICA Plan applied to benefit the defendants, even though the Bennetts were not making a claim for compensation under the NICA Plan. Accordingly, in reviewing the facts under the correct interpretation of the statute, we hold that the ALJ‟s finding that Tristan did not sustain a “birth-related neurological injury” under the NICA Plan is supported by competent, substantial evidence.
Judge(s): Barbara J. Pariente
Jurisdiction: Florida Supreme Court
Related Categories: Civil Procedure , Expert Witness , Torts
|Supreme Court Judge(s)|
|Appellant Lawyer(s)||Appellant Law Firm(s)|
|Wilbur Brewton||Brewton Plante PA|
|Kelly Plante||Brewton Plante PA|
|Tana Storey||Brewton Plante PA|
|Rebecca Creed||Creed & Gowdy PA|
|James Gustafson Jr.||Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley PA|
|Appellee Lawyer(s)||Appellee Law Firm(s)|
|Craig Dennis||Dennis Jackson Martin & Fontela PA|
|William Jackson||Dennis Jackson Martin & Fontela PA|
|William Martin||Dennis Jackson Martin & Fontela PA|
|Scott Tacktill||The Unger Law Group PL|
|Daniel Tressler II||The Unger Law Group PL|