Undisputed Facts and the Court's Ruling In Cases of Wrongful Death Suits
In Mizrahi v. North Miami Med. Ctr., Ltd., 712 So. 2d 826 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998), the undisputed facts and the trial court's ruling are as follows:
The appellants are the surviving adult children of Mizrahi, who died in May 1993, allegedly as a result of the medical malpractice of one or more of the appellees.
The appellants brought a wrongful death suit against the appellees--North Miami Medical Center and various physicians who had treated the decedent.
The trial court granted summary judgment for the hospital and physicians, based on section 768.21, Florida Statutes (1995)--part of Florida's Wrongful Death Act. 712 So. 2d at 827.
Petitioners appealed and the Third District Court of Appeal held that "the statute's disparate treatment of medical malpractice wrongful deaths does bear a rational relationship to the legitimate state interest of ensuring the accessibility of medical care to Florida residents by curtailing the skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance premiums in Florida." Id. at 828.
In so holding, the Third District recognized that "escalating insurance costs adversely impact not only physicians but also, ultimately, their patients through the resultant increased cost of medical care." Id.
The undisputed facts as found by the trial court in the companion case, Garber v. Snetman, are as follows:
Plaintiff instituted this action against several physicians and a hospital seeking recovery for intentional infliction of emotional distress and for mental pain and suffering.
On March 26, 1994, Frances Golub was admitted to Mount Sinai Medical Center for treatment following a suspected stroke.
On April 13, 1994, Mrs. Golub underwent surgery to remove a suspected cancerous tumor from her pelvis. She died on May 8, 1994.
Mrs. Golub was seventy years old at the time of her death.
She had never worked outside the home, did not have a spouse, and was survived only by Lynn Garber, her thirty-three-year-old daughter, the plaintiff in this action.
The claims for which Ms. Garber seeks recovery are governed by Chapters 768 and 766 of the Florida Statutes.
She seeks damages for mental pain and suffering and for loss of support and services in her individual capacity, and for the net accumulations on behalf of her mother's estate.
Based on these facts, the trial court entered summary judgment for the respondents pursuant to section 768.21(8).
On appeal, the Third District affirmed the trial court's order and certified the same question of great public importance as certified in Mizrahi.
The First District Court of Appeal recently addressed the same issue in Stewart v. Price, 718 So. 2d 205 (Fla. 1st DCA 1998), wherein the court rejected the argument that section 768.21(8) denies the federal and state constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The First District analyzed the issue as follows:
Under the common law an adult, who has not been dependent on a parent, was not entitled to recover damages for the wrongful death of a parent. U.S. v. Durrance, 101 F.2d 109 (5th Cir. 1939); Louisville & N.R. Co. v. Jones, 45 Fla. 407, 34 So. 246 (1903).
Prior to the enactment of chapter 90-14, Laws of Florida, under section 768.21(3) only minor children could recover damages for their pain and suffering upon the wrongful death of a parent. See Weimer v. Wolf, 641 So. 2d 480 (Fla. 2d DCA 1994).
In chapter 90-14, the legislature amended section 768.21(3), among other things, to expand the definition of "survivors" who may recover for the wrongful death of a parent.
Thus, in addition to minor children, chapter 90-14 authorized all children of the decedent to recover for lost parental companionship, instruction and guidance and for mental pain or suffering, when there is no surviving spouse.
At the same time, however, in chapter 90-14 the legislature precluded the application of this expanded "survivors" definition to adult children where the cause of the wrongful death is the result of medical malpractice.
Thus, chapter 90-14 treated adult children of a person who dies as a result of medical malpractice differently than adult children whose parent dies as a result of a cause other than medical malpractice.