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Florida First DCA rules that “wrongful act doctrine” entitling litigant to attorney’s fees did not apply to attorney’s fee incurred by defendant in prosecuting cross claim for indemnity against co-defendant in nursing home negligence case

On November 18, 2020, in MV Senior Management, LLC, v. Redus Florida Housing, LLC, No. 1D20-111, the Florida First DCA reversed a trial court order that the management company defendant in a nursing home negligence case was liable for the attorney’s fees of the nursing home’s owner defendant which were incurred prosecuting a cross-claim against the management company for indemnity and failing to indemnify against the plaintiff’s negligence claims. The First DCA observed that Florida courts follow the “American rule”, meaning that unless a contract or statute provides for attorneys’ fees, a court may not award them.  The Court acknowledged that there the “wrongful act doctrine” provides a narrow exception whereby the wrongful act of the defendant has involved the claimant in litigation with others, and has placed the claimant in such relation with others as makes it necessary to incur expenses, including attorney’s fees, to protect its interest. However, the First DCA concluded this case does not meet the standard for recovery under the wrongful act doctrine because the focus of the litigation, and the basis for the award of fees, arose solely from the contractual relationship between        the defendants. The First DCA observed that courts applying this doctrine have recognized its applicability only when litigation ensuing from a party’s wrongful act was against a third party—not directly against the defendant, citing Grasso v. Grasso, 131 F. Supp. 3d 1303, 1309 (M.D. Fla. 2015) (applying Florida law); Robbins v. McGrath, 955 So. 2d 633, 634 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007); and Schwartz v. Bloch, 88 So. 3d 1068, 1071 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012).