A bill signed on March 29 by Florida Governor Rick Scott forces Lee Memorial Health System to pay $15 million to a 14-year-old boy who suffers from severe cerebral palsy after problems during his delivery at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers.
Lee Memorial Health System, in Lee County in Southwest Florida, is a public, nonprofit system created by the Florida Legislature. It has sovereign immunity, limiting its lawsuit liability, because of its mission of serving needy patients.
The boy, Aaron Edwards, now lives with his family in Colorado. His family said medical staff improperly induced labor and were responsible for Edwards’ condition. Mary McGillicuddy, chief legal counsel for the health system, said the more likely cause was Edwards’ mother’s underlying health problems, according to The News-Press newspaper of Fort Myers.
McGillicuddy said much of the evidence addressing that point was ruled inadmissible during a 2007 medical-malpractice trial. A Lee County jury assessed $31 million in damages against the health system. Sovereign immunity capped the award at $200,000. The claims bill that the governor signed last week overrode that cap.
Scott is a former chairman and CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain. Lane Wright, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said:
Governor Scott met with Mr. Edwards during the legislative session, and he thinks he’s a wonderful young man. He was always going to sign this bill … considering what he’s been through and what he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life.
The claims bill failed when first introduced in 2011. This year, an attorney for the boy’s family bought 22 ads about Edwards’ plight on a local television channel, according to the Naples Daily News.
The bill requires the health system to pay $10 million by the end of this year, then five $1 million annual installments. Because of its sovereign immunity, the system had decided not to buy malpractice insurance. It is now figuring out how to pay the award.
Lee Memorial Health System has an annual budget of more than $1.1 billion and ended its last budget year about $29 million in the black. It has an investment portfolio valued at almost $500 million but almost $700 million in long-term debt, according to its last financial audit.
Physicians on the health system’s staff said they feared the bill would make it harder to recruit physicians to a state that already has a reputation for not being physician-friendly. Thomas Presbrey, MD, a radiologist, said:
This is going to have a very chilling effect, and it will have a very negative effect on access [to care].
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