TAMPA — A six-figure judgement against a local doctor has been overturned after a Florida appeals court ruled that two grieving parents did not prove that a Tampa doctor's actions caused their son's death.
In 2011, a jury awarded the parents of an Alonso High School baseball player about $800,000. Their son, 17-year-old Matthew Miulli, collapsed during a preseason workout in 2005, and jurors put some of the blame on the teenager's physician, Dr. Erwin Shartz, and HealthPoint Medical Group.
But if last week's decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal becomes final, those parties will no longer have to pay.
Before that happens, the Miullis' attorney has a chance to ask for a re-hearing. On Friday, attorney Stuart Markman said he plans to do so. He declined to discuss the case further since it is still open.
In January 2005, Miulli collapsed while walking on a track. He was declared dead at a hospital from congenital aortic valve disease.
Shartz had cleared the young man to play baseball in August 2004 — even though he had an existing heart condition. The doctor later testified that Kathy Miulli told him that her son had recently seen a cardiologist.
The day after the appointment, Shartz called the cardiologist, who said the teen had not been examined in two years. Shartz immediately revoked Matthew Miulli's authorization to play baseball but did not get through to the Miullis, despite leaving seven voice messages and sending two letters.
During the 2011 trial, a doctor testifying for the family said that because Shartz did not get in touch with the family, he failed to provide adequate care. He should have "closed the loop," the physician testified.
However, in its June 28 opinion, the appellate court said the testifying physician, Dr. Randy Wertheimer, was not a cardiologist and also did not have evidence that Shartz's failure to reach the family caused the boy's death.
"No one testified that Matthew would not have participated in baseball conditioning had Dr. Shartz 'closed the loop,' " the opinion states.
The Miullis did not testify that they would have taken their son to a cardiologist or forbidden him from going to conditioning, the opinion states.
"Matthew possibly could have lived had Dr. Shartz refused to sign the sports medical release or had he confirmed that the Miullis understood he had revoked his authorization," it states. "But possibly is not the standard."
Matthew Miulli loved baseball. His bedroom was a shrine to the Chicago Cubs. His parents buried him in his hometown of Chicago so that he would be closer to Wrigley Field.
His death raised questions about requirements for school sports and spurred the state to mandate that schools have defibrillators at sporting events.
Attorney Roland Lamb, who represents Shartz and HealthPoint, said he was pleased with the appellate court's decision. His clients had not paid the Miullis and do not plan to now.
"I think it's the appropriate disposition of the case," Lamb said. "I anticipated it, and I'm pleased with the result."
He added that he and his clients sympathize with the Miullis.
"Obviously, it's a terrible situation for them. I'm sure this will make them relive some of it, and I'm very sorry about that."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.