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Florida Fourth DCA rules that physician who prevailed in medical negligence lawsuit could not equitably be bound by premature judgment requiring her to indemnify settling codefendant

On June 6, 2018, in Fitzpatrick v. Meredith, No. 4D17-3438, the Florida Fourth DCA affirmed a trial court’s order granting the defendant doctor’s motion for relief from a summary judgment on indemnification of the doctor’s employer. The plaintiffs in the case had sued the doctor and her employer for medical negligence. The employer cross-claimed against the doctor for a defense to the malpractice claim and for indemnification, and then settled with the plaintiffs for $1,000,000, subject to an agreement between the parties that the employer would help the plaintiffs collect the amount of the settlement from the doctor’s insurer. When the plaintiffs and the employer moved for summary judgment on the indemnity claim, the doctor did not object to the entry of the summary judgment. Three years later, the doctor prevailed in the medical negligence liability trial, prompting the plaintiffs to try to collect on the indemnity judgment. The doctor filed an amended motion for relief from judgment, pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540(b)(5) in which she argued that it was inequitable to enforce the indemnification judgment now that she had been exonerated from liability. The trial court set aside the indemnity judgment after concluding that the entry of the judgment was premature because no liability had been affixed and the defense verdict precluded there being any “trigger” from which an indemnity judgment could be imposed in the future. The Fourth DCA agreed, noting that “[w]hile it is unusual for indemnity to be determined before liability, it seems to have happened here. When that happens, the indemnification judgment is considered premature.” See Dade Cty. Sch. Bd. v. Radio Station WQBA, 731 So. 2d 638, 643-44 (Fla. 1999); see also Rea v. Barton Protective Servs., Inc., 660 So. 2d 772, 773-74 (Fla. 4th DCA 1995) (holding that a summary judgment on an indemnity cross-claim is premature when liability has not yet been determined). The Fourth DCA additionally observed that Rule 1.540(b)(5) provides a mechanism for relief from a premature judgment.