Several claims bills move forward

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A Senate committee on Monday approved a modified claims bill that would pay a 14-year-old-boy $15 million for injuries in what his family says was a botched delivery at a Fort Myers hospital, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

The measure (SB 10) was amended to half the $30 million a jury awarded Aaron Edwards, finding that his cerebral palsy could have been avoided. Though mentally alert, he requires around the clock care.

Lee Memorial Health Services, the defendant in the case, does not carry medical liability insurance, choosing instead to rely on state statutes that allow the non-profit hospital to limit its liability to $200,000 in the event of a medical accident.

Under the state’s sovereign immunity law, any amount over that must be approved by state lawmakers through a claims bill.

An amendment by the Senate sponsor, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, reduced the claim amount to $15 million. A move by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, to drop it to $5 million failed on a voice vote.

Mac Stipanovich, a lobbyist for Lee Memorial, said the hospital did no wrong, an opinion not shared by the trial court jury. The jury’s opinion also was upheld during subsequent appeals.

Being forced to pay such a stiff judgment out of reserves would mean other patients would suffer from program cuts, Stipanovich said.

But some committee members said the hospital has made its bed. By not purchasing insurance and instead relying on its sovereignty to prevent catastrophic legal losses, hospital officials took another route, said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

“They made a business decision not to be carry insurance,” Negron said.

Edwards’ mother, Mitzi Roden, testified that she is the sole provider for her son. The teen watched from a wheelchair as the committee voted 8-3 to approve the bill. The House version, HB 965, authorizes a payment of $10 million. It is awaiting action on the House floor.

The Edwards bill was among 16 claims bills approved by the Senate Rules Committee during an emotionally charged session lasting more than two hours. Among those was a $2.4 million judgment for the family of Rachel Hoffman, a confidential informant who was murdered during a police-staged drug buy in Tallahassee in 2008.

It remains unclear how many — if any — claims bills will ultimately pass before the March 9 end of the legislative session. The process has come under fire for its sometimes contentious and erratic process that critics say relies too much on which victims are able to hire the most active lawyers and lobbyists.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.