A state appeals court Friday backed a Brevard County hospital and other defendants in a battle about whether state medical-malpractice laws should govern a lawsuit stemming from the death of a woman in 2012.


A panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal overturned a decision by a circuit judge who denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss the case.

The dispute involves the 2012 death of Shannon C. Lawley, who was taken to the emergency room at what was then known as Wuesthoff Medical Center Rockledge.

An emergency-room physician determined that she needed treatment in the intensive-care unit, but the hospital did not have available intensive-care unit beds, according to Friday’s ruling.

She was admitted to the hospital but not placed in the intensive-care unit and ultimately died. Lawley’s estate filed a lawsuit against the hospital, its then-owner Health Management Associates, Inc. of Delaware and other defendants.

The lawsuit alleged, in part, that the decision to admit Lawley rather than to transfer her to another hospital that had intensive-care unit beds was motivated by financial reasons.

The defendants argued that the case should be dismissed because the estate did not comply with a pre-suit notice requirement that is part of medical-malpractice lawsuits.

A circuit judge rejected dismissing the case, finding that the “wrongful acts complained of were not ‘directly related to improper application of medical services’ and did not require the use of professional judgment or skill,” according to the appeals-court ruling.

But the three-judge panel disagreed, saying the dispute falls under medical-malpractice laws.

“Because the claim raised here directly relates to medical care or services, which require the use of professional judgment or skill, we hold the trial court departed from the essential requirements of law when it determined the medical negligence standard of care is not implicated,” said the eight-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Meredith Sasso and joined by judges Brian Lambert and Dan Traver.

The hospital is no longer operated by Health Management Associates and is known as Rockledge Regional Medical Center.

The ruling did not detail the medical condition that led to Lawley’s death.