By Jennifer Gonzalez

The number of medical malpractice claims has substantially increased over the last two decades and in response, a variety of provisions have been introduced by state legislatures in an attempt to handle the numerous malpractice claims presented to the courts.[1] Subjecting claimants of a medical malpractice claim to pre-trial requirements is one provision utilized in resolving medical malpractice disputes.[2]

Medical malpractice claims are limited to only the activities of a listed group of prospective defendants, often characterized as “health care providers.”[3] Chapter 766 of the Florida Statutes only references certain groups of licensed professionals and also contains several definitions for those classified as a health care provider.[4]  Due to the limited classification provided by states’ medical malpractice statutes in reference to health care providers, “courts are often called upon to decide, therefore, what entities or persons are ‘health care providers,’ or the like, whose actions fall within statutes specifically governing medical malpractice claims.”[5] Courts have interpreted and concluded that because, for example, a licensed pharmacist is not specifically referenced in the statute, then the legislature intentionally excluded licensed pharmacists from the definition of health care providers.[6]

In response to whether business entities—such as holding companies that own and operate hospitals and healthcare facilities —are considered health care providers and are therefore rightly served defendants, courts determine whether the prospective entity is “directly or vicariously liable under the medical negligence standard of care.”[7]  Florida courts have specified that “a parent corporation and its wholly-owned subsidiary are separate and distinct legal entities” and therefore are not liable for torts committed by its subsidiary.[8]  Plaintiffs would have to successfully prove that entities, such as holding companies, owed a duty to the claimant separate from the duty owed by a hospital.[9] Additionally, subsidiaries must be deemed a mere “instrumentality” of its parent corporation in order for the parent corporation to be held liable.[10]  However, the question as to whether certain business entities or individuals are considered “health care providers” whose actions fall within the state statues enacted to govern medical malpractice claims remains a common question that continues to be addressed by the Florida courts.[11]

[1] George L. Blum, Annotation, Medical Malpractice: Who are “Health Care Providers,” or the like, Whose Actions fall Within Statutes Specifically Governing Actions and Damages for Medical Malpractice, 12 A.L.R.5th 1, 2a (1995).

[2] Id.

[3] See Blum, supra note 1, 2a.

[4] See Pierrot v. Osceola Mental Health, Inc., 106 So. 3d 491, 494 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013).

[5] See Blum, supra note 1, 2a.

[5] Id.

[6] GalenCare, Inc. v. Mosley, 59 So. 3d 138,141 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011).

[7] See Id.; Weinstock v. Groth, 629 So. 2d 835, 838 (Fla. 1993).

[8] Am. Int’l Grp., Inc. v. Cornerstone Bus., Inc., 872 So. 2d 333, 336 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004).

[9] GalenCare, Inc., 59 So. 3d at 143.

[10] Am. Int’l Grp., Inc., 872 So. 2d at 337.

[11] Blum, supra note 1.