Stuart v. Hertz Corp. (Florida Supreme Court) – Initial Tortfeasor Responsible for Malpractice Damages

In Stuart v. Hertz Corp., 351 So.2d 703 (Fla. 1977), Hertz Corporation, vicariously liable for the negligence of the driver of its vehicle, sought to limit its financial burden by bringing a treating doctor into the case who, it claimed, made the crash victim’s injuries worse through medical malpractice. The Florida Supreme Court said No.

The significance of the case is that initial tortfeasors are fully responsible for all reasonably foreseeable damages resulting from the original accident. Medical malpractice is considered a foreseeable outcome of receiving medical treatment for injuries suffered in the original accident.

Even with Florida’s adoption of comparative fault law (Section 769.81 Florida Statutes), Stuart v. Hertz remains good law. See Association for Retarded Citizens-Volusia, Inc. v. Fletcher, 741 So.2d 520 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999).

Recent case law bolsters the Stuart v. Hertz Corp. decision.

In Nason v. Shafranski, So.3d , 35 FLW D943 (Fla. 4th DCA 4-28-2010), the defendant tried to limit its damages by arguing throughout the trial that the plaintiff’s treating doctor performed surgery unnecessarily, thus making the damages worse. To avoid confusion, the plaintiff asked the court to give the following instruction to the jury:

“When a person has suffered injuries by reason of the negligence of another and exercising reasonable care in securing the services of a competent physician, and in following his advice and instructions his injuries are aggravated or increased by the negligence, mistake or lack of skill of such physician, the law regards the negligence of the wrongdoer in causing the original injury.”

The trial judge refused to give the requested instruction. After the jury returned an unreasonably low verdict, the plaintiff appealed the judge’s refusal to give the instruction. The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the plaintiff, holding that the instruction should have been given to make it clear to the jury that Mr. Nason’s damages included those caused by an alleged unnecessary surgery.

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