And The Defense Wins

Francis “Frank” E. Pierce III of Mateer & Harbert in Orlando recently received appellate affirmance of a trial court order in a case of first impression involving the issue of whether one parent may consent to elective health care for minor children when the other parent objects.

In Angeli v. Kluka, 190 So.3d 700 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016), Mr. Pierce represented a pediatrician and pediatric clinic in a claim by a father of a minor child who sued a pediatrician and pediatric clinic for the tort of battery and the unusual claim of tortious interference with parental relationship. This claim arose as a result of two parents, who were separated but had equal custody rights, disagreeing concerning their minor children’s elective health care.

The mother of the minor children wanted to have elective, non-emergent surgery performed on the children and the father objected, which caused the doctor to cancel the surgery initially. Several months later, the mother again contacted the doctor to schedule surgery for one child and the father again objected. The mother called the doctor’s staff and indicated that the dispute had been worked out and that the father consented to the surgery. Minor elective surgery was then performed with the mother alone signing the informed consent document. The father alleged that the statement by the mother indicating the father’s consent was a misrepresentation and that he never gave consent.

The trial court dismissed the father’s complaint with prejudice holding that as a matter of law, one parent’s consent is all that is necessary to permit medical professionals and institutions to provide non-emergent health care to a minor child.

The Florida First District Court of Appeal affirmed of dismissal of the complaint by the trial court, concluding, just as the trial court did, that Florida law does not require health care providers to assume the burden of refereeing or going to court to resolve disputes between parents, so long as at least one legally authorized person provides consent for elective health care procedures for minors.

This decision is the first authority available to pediatricians that allows them to focus on the health care of their patient, the child, rather than refereeing disputes between parents over who is in control of a minor’s health care.

Mr. Pierce has been a member of DRI since 1983 and is a member of the DRI Medical Liability and Health Care Law Committee. He is also a past president of the Florida Defense Lawyers Association.