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Legal Dispute Regarding Attorney Fees in Birth Injury Case

child with cerebral palsyA cerebral palsy lawsuit that was decided in favor of the plaintiff in 2012 continues to make its way through the legal system. The question to date is whether there should be caps on attorney fees in birth injury claims.

This case has had a long legal history, setting a precedent on how much public hospitals should have to pay out in malpractice suits after jury determined the hospital staff’s errors led to a child’s birth injuries.

FL Supreme Court takes up dispute

The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to take up the dispute involving limiting attorney fees in birth injury cases. The dispute began with a high profile lawsuit that alleged malpractice led to a child’s cerebral palsy. Originally, the jury in that case awarded the plaintiff $15 million after determining negligence was a contributor in those birth injuries.

The child in this case was born at Lee Memorial Health System in Florida in 1997. The mother plaintiff alleged errors in the administration of medication during her labor caused injury to her son during his birth. The child was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, one of the most debilitating forms of the condition. With spastic quadriplegia, the individual is unable to use his arms or legs properly, confining him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. These individuals will also never be able to live completely independently, because they will require a lifetime of round-the-clock care and assistance.

Although the jury found medical staff at Lee Memorial Health System to be liable for delivery room negligence, the award they granted to the plaintiff was reduced. Instead of $15 million, the plaintiff was only allowed $200,000 under Florida’s sovereign-immunity laws, which has protected Lee Memorial from large judgements in exchange for serving the neediest patients in the community. That legal protection has been in place for 50 years.

Legislation limits fees paid to attorneys

The decision led to a claims bill signed by state senators that required Lee Memorial to pay the plaintiffs the full $15 million. According to the bill, the hospital would pay $10 million by the end of this year and an additional $1 million per year for the following five years. However, the hospital does not have insurance to cover the claim, nor does it have sufficient cash set aside to pay the damages. The hospital is also disputing the allegations that it caused the plaintiff’s injuries, despite a jury decision that says otherwise. The defendants further stated that this bill could have implications for other public entities that rely on sovereign immunity in the future, taking away protection they have also depended on.

While the bill allowed for the full payment of damages to the plaintiff in this case, it also restricted the amount attorneys could collect for their representation of the plaintiffs. The law firm then took the fee limit to court, questioning the constitutionality of the decision.

In July, the 4th District Court of Appeal upheld the fee limit, but requested the Florida Supreme Court to assess the constitutionality of the limit. This month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

  1. News-Press, Local Legal Case Goes to Florida Supreme Court,

  2. Naples Daily News, Lee Memorial: Aaron Edwards Claims Bill Process did “Immeasurable” Damage,

  3. Herald Tribune, Lee Memorial Hospital Ordered to Pay Former Child Patients $15 Million,

  4. Florida Society of News Editors, Lee Memorial Board may Consider Changing Public Hospital to Private or Tax District,

  5. News-Press, Living Well: FL Supreme Court to Review Edwards Malpractice Case,

  6. ABC Denver, Disabled Colo. Teen Step Closer to $30 Million He’s Owed,