Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chapter 88-539, Florida Statutes, Held Unconstitutional

In Mercury Ins. Co. of Florida v. Shands Teaching Hospital and Clinics, Inc. (1D08-1198), the First District found that chapter 88-539, Florida Statutes, violates Article III, section 11(a)(9), of the Florida Constitution. The court stated:

Essentially, the challenged statute entitles any "charitable hospital" located in Alachua County to a lien "for all reasonable charges for hospital care, treatment, and maintenance of ill or injured persons" upon "all causes of action, suits, claims, counterclaims, and demands accruing to such persons" and upon "all judgments, settlements, and settlement agreements rendered or entered into by virtue thereof," arising from the illness or the injuries necessitating the hospital care, except for workers’ compensation injuries. It provides that no release or satisfaction of such a cause of action shall be valid as against the lien "unless such lienholder shall join therein or execute a release of such lien," and that any acceptance of such a release or satisfaction "shall prima facie constitute an impairment of such lien," entitling the lienholder hospital to an action at law to recover "the reasonable cost of such hospital care, treatment, and maintenance." It further provides: "If the lienholder shall prevail in such action, the lienholder shall be entitled to recover from the defendant, in addition to costs otherwise allowed by law, all reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses incident to the matter."


Article III, section 11(a)(9), of the Florida Constitution provides that "[t]here shall be no special law or general law of local application pertaining to . . . creation, enforcement, extension or impairment of liens based on private contracts, or fixing of interest rates on private contracts." We find that chapter 88-539 is a special law which creates a lien based on a private contract between Shands and its patient, in violation of article III, section 11(a)(9), of the Florida Constitution.


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