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Sharon C. Degnan, a shareholder in the Ft. Lauderdale office, is on a roll

Sharon C. Degnan | June 10, 2013

Sharon C. Degnan, a shareholder in the Ft. Lauderdale office, is on a roll. At a time when the trend in the courts seems to be generally unfavorable toward the defense, and especially toward insurance companies, Ms. Degnan has managed to consistently obtain favorable results for her clients. She is a board certified appellate attorney who brings her expertise to bear in all aspects of civil litigation, including appeals, complex trial support, and insurance coverage disputes. Ms. Degnan regularly appears before all of Florida’s state appellate courts, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and numerous Florida trial courts. She litigates at both the trial and appellate levels against Florida’s top appellate practitioners and has many published opinions spanning all areas of civil litigation. Ms. Degnan is also frequently asked to provide insurance coverage analysis to her clients and litigates all aspects of policy interpretation and coverage disputes.

In the past year, her work has garnered several favorable decisions, especially from Florida’s appellate courts, at a time when few others have been as successful in advocating for the defense. Most recently, in List Industries, Inc. v. Dalien, 107 So. 3d 470 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013), she obtained the reversal of a $2.7 million jury verdict and final judgment against an employer-defendant and in favor of an employee-plaintiff who had suffered an amputation of a significant portion of his dominant hand while operating a piece of machinery. Ms. Degnan argued the trial court erred in denying the defense motion for directed verdict at trial based on the workers’ compensation immunity defense. The appellate court agreed and reversed and remanded with directions to enter a directed verdict for the defendant. The court emphasized: "The case before us demonstrates how the ‘quick and efficient’ intention of the statute is subverted when the immunity issue was allowed to avoid early determination by the trial court." Id. at 474. The plaintiff, discontent with this decision, is seeking further review with the Florida Supreme Court, and Ms. Degnan recently filed a jurisdictional brief in opposition to the appeal with the Florida Supreme Court (which the court has not yet decided at this time).

The same day the Dalien decision was released by the Fourth District, the Third District issued its opinion in Balmoral Condo. Ass'n v. Grimaldi, 107 So. 3d 1149 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013), reversing a trial court’s decision vacating a default summary judgment in favor of Ms. Degnan’s client. In that case, Ms. Degnan explained to the appellate court that the trial court erred in vacating the default in favor of her client because the trial court lacked jurisdiction to entertain a successive motion for rehearing, which was not authorized under the rules of procedure. Hence, the appellate court ruled that the final judgment in favor of Ms. Degan’s client must stand.

Also recently, in Steinger, Iscoe & Greene, P.A. v. GEICO Gen. Ins. Co., 103 So. 3d 200 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012) (reh'g denied Jan. 18, 2013), Ms. Degnan successfully argued to the appellate court that the defendant in personal injury litigation should be permitted to conduct discovery aimed at uncovering the existence of biases or a referral relationship between a plaintiff’s attorney and treating physicians, who are expected to testify at trial (commonly known as a "hybrid witness"), and that, if a referral relationship is shown to exist, the defendant should be able to conduct additional discovery regarding the extent of the financial relationship. Although the appellate court ultimately concluded that the trial court’s discovery order was premature since the record did not conclusively establish the existence of a referral relationship, it held that the medical providers were required to provide financial bias discovery like that permitted by Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.280(b)(5)(A)(iii), as well as any history of referrals between the medical providers and the plaintiff’s law firm. Moreover, the court held that if the defendant could establish that the law firm or medical providers referred plaintiff to the other, then more extensive financial bias discovery from both of them may be appropriate.

A few months before the Steinger case, Ms. Degnan received a favorable decision in Madden v. Kutner, 110 So. 3d 464 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012), where she successfully persuaded the Fourth District Court of Appeal that it should affirm the trial court’s order denying the plaintiff’s motion for attorney’s fees because the plaintiff’s proposal for settlement was ambiguous and, therefore, invalid.

Although appellate results, as with any litigation results, obviously can never be predicted with certainty, Ms. Degnan has been successful time and again in persuading the appellate courts to side with the defense. She believes one of her most valuable skills that makes her so successful, especially on the appellate and coverage fronts, is her ability to present complex legal issues in a straightforward manner that helps the court view the case from a different perspective. Ms. Degnan is passionate about advocating for her clients and presenting her client’s position in the best possible light to the court.

Ms. Degnan was born and raised near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She knew from an early age that she wanted to be an attorney. She attended college at William Smith College in Geneva, New York, where she earned her B.A. in Political Science, with honors. She earnerd her J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law, also with honors. Law school is also where she met her husband, Michael, who is a securities lawyer. Their little boy, Liam, is seven years’ old, and their little girl, Lacey, is four.

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