PLANTATION GENERAL HOSPITAL LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, d/b/a PLANTATION GENERAL HOSPITAL, Appellant,
DIVISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS and BERNARD BELZI, individually and as Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF PATRICIA BELZI, deceased, and as legal guardian and parent of A.B., a minor, Appellees. Past Years Future Years Total Component of Analysis
final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from the State of Florida, Division of Administrative
Hearings; L.T. Case No. 15-3711MA.
Hicks and Mary Gniadek of Hicks, Porter, Ebenfeld &
Stein, P.A., Miami, and Carol Glasgow and John Mauro of
Billing, Cochran, Lyles, Mauro & Ramsey, P.A., Fort
Lauderdale, for appellant.
W. Kelley and Bonnie A. Navin of Kelley Uustal, PLC, and Paul
R. Regensdorf, High Springs, for appellees.
appeal from a final arbitration award for a medical
malpractice claim involving the death of a woman who was both
a wife and mother, the appellants contend that the
arbitration panel erred in awarding economic damages for the
loss of companionship and guidance to the husband and child.
The panel also awarded the maximum statutory limitation as an
award for non-economic damages. We reverse the award of
economic damages for loss of companionship and guidance, as
these are non-economic damages covered by the statutory
limitation on such damages. The appellants also claim that
the award for lost support should be reversed because of the
introduction of inadmissible hearsay state of mind evidence.
We affirm the loss of support award, as the evidence was
admissible and the award was supported by competent
substantial evidence. Because of our partial reversal, we
also reverse the attorney's fee award for recalculation.
Estate of Patricia Belzi and Bernard Belzi (collectively
"the Estate"), brought a medical negligence,
wrongful death action against Dr. Andrew Agbi and Plantation
General Hospital (collectively "the Hospital")
alleging that their medical negligence caused the death of
Belzi's twenty-four-year-old wife, Patricia, when she was
eight months pregnant with their child, Abigail, who
survived. After presuit investigation by the Hospital, the
parties agreed to voluntary binding arbitration pursuant to
section 766.207, Florida Statutes (2014) et seq., to
determine damages. Pursuant to the statute, the damages
recoverable in arbitration proceedings are limited to:
(a) Net economic damages shall be awardable, including, but
not limited to, past and future medical expenses and 80
percent of wage loss and loss of earning capacity, offset by
any collateral source payments.
(b) Noneconomic damages shall be limited to a maximum of
$250, 000 per incident . . . .
§ 766.207(7), Fla. Stat. (2014). Our supreme court has
interpreted section 766.207(7)(b) as permitting the $250, 000
limit on non-economic damages to apply to each claimant.
St. Mary's Hosp., Inc. v. Phillipe, 769 So.2d
961, 967-68 (Fla. 2000).
arbitration hearing, the Estate did not seek medical
expenses, and the parties stipulated to the maximum $250, 000
each in non-economic damages for Belzi and Abigail. The
damages issues presented for the arbitration panel to decide
were for loss of services, support, and attorney's fees.
Hospital objected to two facets of the Estate's damage
case which form the basis of the issues on appeal. First, it
objected to the Estate's economics expert's inclusion
of loss of guidance and companionship in the economic losses
suffered by Belzi and his daughter, which it contended was an
attempt to value non-economic damages for which they were
also awarded $250, 000 each. Second, it objected to hearsay
evidence offered as to Patricia's aspirations and goals.
A vocational expert used this evidence in projecting
Patricia's occupational trajectory, leading to the amount
of lost support calculated by the economics expert.
prior to trial and at trial, the Hospital objected to the
Estate's expert's testimony regarding calculations on
lost companionship and guidance as compensable services. It
argued that this was an attempt to circumvent the statutory
cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice
arbitrations by labelling non-economic losses of
companionship and guidance as "economic, " thus
seeking a recovery beyond the $250, 000 per claimant cap. The
Chief Arbitrator overruled the Hospital's objections.
trial, the Estate's economic expert offered her opinion
as to the economic value of the loss of companionship and
guidance suffered by Belzi and Abigail. The expert reviewed
the statistical data from the National Vital Statistics
Reports to determine Patricia's life expectancy and
retirement age. She examined how many hours per week Belzi
and Abigail would have received "services" from
Patricia for "companionship, advice and counsel."
She talked to family and friends to determine the time
Patricia spent or would have spent on these activities.
However, she had no information that Belzi had utilized or
was intending to accept "companionship" or
"counseling" from third parties as a substitute for
his wife's companionship and counsel after her death.
Estate's expert examined the wage rates that someone
would have to pay in the marketplace to hire people to
perform services, such as companions and counselors. Her
focus was on determining the economic value of the services
which were provided by Patricia, which were now lost. For
Belzi, she calculated that Patricia and Belzi spent about
twenty hours together a week. For Abigail, she calculated
various numbers of hours per year based upon Abigail's
age. For both Belzi and Abigail, the expert's report
identified the source of value for paid companion services as
a New Jersey "Market Survey of Long-Term Care Costs,
Various MetLife Market Surveys of Nursing Home, Assisted
Living, Adult Day Services, and Home Care Costs, and various
Genworth Cost of Care Surveys, Home Care Providers, Adult Day
Health Care Facilities, Assisted Living Facilities and
Nursing Homes." The dollar cost in New Jersey was
adjusted for Florida wages.
calculate the amounts for advice and counsel, the expert
averaged the hourly wage of a variety of occupations which
offer advice, including: child, family, and school social
workers; social and human service assistants; marriage and
family therapists; residential advisors; loan officers; tax
preparers; post-secondary business teachers; financial
managers; self-enrichment education teachers; elementary
school teachers; secondary school teachers. She applied this
averaged hourly rate to the hours she considered that
Patricia would have counseled both her husband and her
daughter. She testified that these amounts did not include
any emotional loss by Belzi and Abigail. After this
presentation, the Hospital again objected, and again the
Chief Arbitrator overruled the objection, stating that these
elements were part of the economic loss of services. In
addition to loss of support, the expert calculated the value
of other lost services which the Hospital does not contest.
determine the economic value of lost support from Patricia,
who was twenty-four at the time of her death, the Estate
presented the testimony of family and friends as to
Patricia's aspirations and goals, to which the Hospital
objected but was overruled. The Estate presented a ...