Florida Supreme Court decides not to hear Tampa General malpractice suit

By John Severance | Apr 19, 2017

TAMPA — The Florida Supreme Court recently declined to hear a malpractice case in which a woman died while in surgery at Tampa General Hospital.

Annie Godwin was having surgery in 2009 to remove a cancerous growth on her colon when one of her large veins was torn. She died of blood loss.

After her death, the Godwin estate went to court, suing Tampa General for malpractice. Other defendants in the case were the University of South Florida (USF) and the physicians who performed the operation.

The crux of the suit was whether Tampa General was liable for the woman’s death even though the physicians were not hospital employees. The physicians who performed the operation were employees of USF.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal took up the case last year and ruled that Tampa General could not be found liable for the woman’s death.

The appeal court’s ruling was based on the fact that Godwin signed a form that notified her that the physicians were not hospital employees but rather USF employees.

The Godwin estate argued that the physicians were functioning as agents of Tampa General despite the signed waivers.

The estate lawyers cited a state statute which said to argue that the special notice she received from Tampa General were “neither separate nor conspicuous.”

They further argued to the appeals panel that there was ambiguity in the language of the waiver form. They cited a line that said “the patient will or may be treated by USF physicians.”

The appeals court was not buying the argument.

"No disputed material facts undermine the trial court's conclusion that the physicians were not (Tampa General) employees or agents," the court opinion said in its ruling. "In addition to the affiliation agreement and the three forms signed by Mrs. Godwin, we are mindful that USF controlled its physicians. … Our record contains no factual disputes as to the nature of the relationship; the physicians were employees of USF, paid by USF, and assigned by USF. USF, not TGH, controlled their activities."

After the decision by the appeals court, Godwin’s estate turned to the state Supreme Court. The high court decided last month not to hear it, leaving the appeals court ruling intact.

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Florida Second District Court of Appeal Florida Supreme Court University of South Florida

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