August 14, 2015

Florida Appellate Court Asks Florida Supreme Court to Decide Equitable Subrogation Issue in Personal Injury Case

file451297827287In Allstate Insurance Company v. Theodotou, a juvenile male was struck by a motor vehicle while riding on a scooter, causing him to incur severe head trauma and other bodily injuries. After the accident, he received treatment at a local medical facility. During his medical treatment, the extent of the injuries he suffered as the result of the car collision were made worse as the result of negligence on the part of his treating physicians and medical professionals.

Shortly thereafter, the juvenile's guardian filed a legal complaint against the motorist operating the vehicle that struck the male, in addition to the person who owned the vehicle. During trial, both defendants were prevented from introducing evidence regarding the fact that his injuries were exacerbated by medical negligence. The reason that the defendants were precluded from introducing this evidence was based on existing Florida law.

At the close of trial, the plaintiff secured a verdict in excess of $11 million against both defendants. The owner of the vehicle's insurance company paid the guardian the entire policy limit, which totaled $1.1 million.

Prior to paying the judgment, however, the guardian filed a lawsuit against the medical professionals who treated the juvenile after the collision. The guardian also initiated a lawsuit against the vehicle owner's insurance company, alleging that the insurance company engaged in bad faith. After the lawsuits were filed, the motorist, the vehicle owner, and the vehicle owner's insurance company collectively intervened in the litigation.

In their motion to intervene, the group alleged that they were entitled to receive equitable subrogation from the medical professionals who treated the juvenile, and the medical defendants filed a motion to dismiss the group's subrogation action, arguing that they were not entitled to subrogation because the judgment secured against them had not been fulfilled at the time they filed their subrogation action.

The trial court granted the medical professionals' motion to dismiss the subrogation complaint, and the group of defendants filed an appeal with the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Florida. They framed the issue on appeal as whether they were allowed to pursue an equitable subrogation action against a subsequent tortfeasor pursuant to Florida law, even though they were not allowed to introduce evidence regarding the subsequent medical malpractice in the initial lawsuit. According to the defendants, as a result of this preclusion of evidence, the defendants were saddled with paying the full amount of the juvenile's injuries, even though they were not responsible for exacerbating the injuries.

On review, the Fifth Circuit first held that the group should be permitted to seek subrogation compensation from the medical professionals. The court based its holding on basic concepts of fairness, noting that it would be unfair for the defendants to have to pay the full amount of the damages without having caused the full extent of the juvenile's damages.

The Fifth Circuit also certified the question of whether the group may also pursue equitable subrogation from the defendants, even though the judgment entered against them in the original lawsuit had not yet been satisfied. An appellate court may certify a question to the highest court of the state when the issue of law is unclear and the appellate court is seeking the high court's guidance.

If you or someone you know suffered injuries in a motor vehicle accident, the personal injury lawyers at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano can help. Our team of experienced legal professionals knows firsthand just how difficult this situation can be for you and your loved ones. We have provided dedicated and seasoned legal counsel to accident victims throughout Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral for years and are prepared to help you seek the compensation that you deserve. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your consultation.

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