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Florida Fifth DCA reverses trial court and remands medical negligence case for trial de novo after nonbinding arbitration

On August 7, 2020, in Dungarani v. Benoit, No. 5D19-139, the Florida Fifth DCA reversed a trial court ruling denying a plaintiff’s request for a trial de novo after a nonbinding arbitration in a medical negligence case. The case involved a patient’s death following a series of epidural injections. The patient’s personal representative claimed that the defendant doctor was negligent both in causing the infection (through a “break in the sterile technique”) and in not timely discovering the infection.  The trial court had granted the plaintiff’s motion for the nonbinding arbitration, over the defendants’ objection, pursuant Fla. Stat. § 44.103, which permits a court to refer any contested civil action to nonbinding arbitration. The arbitration resulted in a decision awarding the plaintiff $3,640,726 in damages, although the arbitrator determined that the doctor was negligent only regarding the failure to timely discover the infection.  The plaintiff subsequently sought a trial de novo only as to the issue of whether the doctor negligently caused the infection, but included language in the “wherefore” section of the motion alternatively requesting a trial de novo on “all the issues in the case.” On appeal after the denial of the plaintiff’s request, the Fifth DCA observed that while § 44.103(5) prohibits partial trial de novo requests, the plaintiff’s alternative prayer for relief, asking for a trial de novo on “all the issues in the case”, was sufficient under the statute.