Standing of "Potential Defendants"

In personal injury cases it is sometimes necessary to add defendants who may be potentially liable to the injured party after a lawsuit has been filed. This usually occurs when new evidence is discovered or when the plaintiff becomes aware of previously unknown defendants. When this happens, the plaintiff usually has to file a motion to amend their complaint to add any new defendants. Until the motion to amend is granted by the Court and the plaintiff is allowed to actually name these new defendants in the law suit, these potential defendants are limited in their ability to participate in the case. The recently decided case of Zaffuto v. St. Joseph's Hospital, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D2280 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013) addressed this type of issue.

In Zaffuto, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against St. Joseph's Hospital. One year into the litigation, Zaffuto sought to add two new defendants to the lawsuit. Zaffuto filed a motion to amend in order to get the court's permission to add these new defendants to the case. Before the motion to amend was heard, the two potential defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on the fact that the statute of limitations had expired and that these two new defendants are immune from any lawsuit regarding the incident that occurred. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss with prejudice. Zaffuto appealed and when a hearing was set, the court realized that the way the parties had arrived at this point was procedurally improper. Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.210(a) does not recognize "potential defendants" and that the new defendants did not have standing to file the motion to dismiss or to participate in the appeal. The court noted that the Parties to the case tried to act properly, but legal rules prevented the case from moving forward in this manner. The court advised that this issue should probably be raised through a writ of certiorari and that the potential defendants could only appear as "amicus curiae," which means "friends of the court" to make their arguments. In any personal injury case that goes to litigation it is vitally important to be aware of the rules of civil procedure and the statute of limitations as to avoid delays in justice and being able to recover damages from all at-fault parties.

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