Hospital Dodges $31 Million Verdict Awarded to Quadriplegic Boy

Fourteen-year-old Aaron Edwards cannot walk or talk and needs 24/7 care because of hospital errors that left him severely disabled at birth.

When his mother was in labor, a nurse at Lee Memorial Hospital administered a drug to speed her labor and then forgot to stop the drug’s IV drip. That cut off baby Aaron’s air supply, causing lifelong disability.

Now a Florida jury has ordered that the hospital should pay $31 million to the teen’s family to pay for his care and to compensate for the disabilities he’s suffered. In spite of the ruling against it, Lee Memorial maintains that it did nothing wrong and that its staff acted properly; it has no plans to pay the full bill.

Many of the 10,000 Americans who successfully sue after being victims of medical errors could find themselves in the same boat – unable to collect enough from doctors and hospitals to even pay their legal fees, let alone make up for lost pay or extra treatment costs that result from health-care-caused injuries.

“It does vary by state, but it is very common for individual states to have what’s called a ‘limited tort scheme’ or ‘limited waiver of immunity’ that establishes a very hard cap on the damages you can recover,” said Jim M. Perdue Jr., an attorney with Houston-based Perdue Kidd & Vickery.  “In Texas, our cap is $250,000 if it’s a state-owned hospital, $100,000 if it’s a county hospital.”

In Florida, the limit was $200,000 on public hospitals like Lee Memorial at the time that the jury ruled in favor of Edwards, who is a quadriplegic and can only communicate through a computer. That cap has since been raised to $300,000, and Edwards’ and others’ stories have prompted Florida legislators to consider raising it further, though no changes have yet been passed into law.

The reasons for these limits are two-fold:

  • States have often capped damages on public hospitals to protect the public coffers. Lee Memorial Health is a taxpayer-owned hospital that cleared $65 million after expenses in 2010. Paying out $31 million on a single claim would have halved its profits and could have affected its ability to provide care for the poor and uninsured.
  • Medical malpractice claims have also been blamed as one contributor to the nation’s skyrocketing health care costs, both because of large payouts and because those payouts have pushed up the cost of malpractice insurance to startling levels. Some physicians pay more than $200,000 per year for insurance.

A number of studies have shown that health care costs keep rising even with malpractice caps in place, however. And hospitals in states that don’t have caps prove that it’s possible to stay in business even with the risk of big legal payouts – most obtain insurance to keep jury rulings from rendering them insolvent. According to some reports, Lee Memorial did not have insurance of this sort.

Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, issued a 2011 report in which it found that medical liability caps make care less available and more expensive – and prevent patients from being fully compensated for damage caused by bad doctors. Insurance companies and doctors are the ones who most benefit from malpractice caps, Public Citizen found.

Ironically, when people cannot expect payment to cover the cost of doctor-caused injuries, they may ultimately put a bigger financial burden on the health care system, attorney Perdue said. That’s because instead of receiving funds that would cover their post-injury medical costs, many are dashed into poverty by career-ending injuries and forced to rely on Medicaid or the emergency room for ongoing treatment.

This is the case with Aaron Edwards. Without the court-awarded funds, he will have to depend on Medicaid and Social Security Disability Payments to get by as he grows up.

There’s not much that most patients can do to protect themselves or to guarantee that they will be compensated if they’re victims of medical malpractice, attorney Perdue said. Many communities are only served by public hospitals, and malpractice payment limits apply to private hospitals in some areas. Meanwhile, seriously injured trauma patients don’t usually get to choose where they are taken even in areas where private and public hospitals do compete head-to-head.

Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that minor, non-life-altering errors do happen at even the best hospitals, and litigation is not always the best approach.

“Health care is not perfect,” Perdue said. “There are a variety of inconveniences and unfortunate things that occur. If anybody has suffered an event or an injury that is serious, they should never hesitate to call a lawyer and see what their rights are.”

In the meantime, some states are beginning to reconsider the caps they’ve placed on medical damages. Others, including Florida, are addressing challenges to malpractice payment limits on a case-by-case basis. A case currently before the Florida Supreme Court argues the constitutionality of damage caps, and legislators there are considering a bill that would pay Edwards family more than $30 million while leaving restrictions on future payments in place. That bill passed out of subcommittee on Feb. 17 and now awaits a vote by the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

By: Courtney Sherwood

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a medical malpractice case, hospital negligence or error, a personal injury claim, or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com 

Keywords: Injury, personal injury, claim, personal injury claim, personal injury claims, personal injury claim attorney, injury attorneys, personal injury attorney, personal injury attorneys, injury attorney, personal injury lawsuit, personal injury lawyer, personal injury lawyers, injury lawyer, accident injury attorney, personal injury law firm, law firm, personal injury law, legal advice, legal office, Maya Murphy, www.Mayalaw.com, New York personal injury attorney, Connecticut personal injury attorney, Connecticut injury attorney, Westport personal injury attorney, Fairfield personal injury attorney, Fairfield personal injury lawyer, Westport personal injury lawyer, personal injury attorney in, tort lawyer, tort attorney, tort lawyer Fairfield county, find an attorney, how to find an attorney, work injury attorney, injury settlement, personal injury settlement, personal injury settlements, tort settlements, lawyers, lawyer, attorney, attorneys, attorneys in ct, New York, New York City, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, Weston, Fairfield County, mesothelioma, mesothelioma lawyer, asbestos, asbestos lawyer, lung cancer, lung cancer attorney, accident lawsuit, accident lawyers, accident attorney, accident injury lawyer, airplane crash attorney, Airplane injury lawyer, amputation lawyer, arm amputation lawyer, Auto Accident Death, auto accident injury attorney, accident injury attorney, auto accident injury lawyer, auto accident injury lawyers, auto accident settlement, car accident settlement attorney, auto crash attorney, auto crash lawyer, auto crash lawyers, auto injury lawyer, auto wreck attorney, automobile accident death, automobile accident lawyer, automobile accident lawyers, aviation attorney, aviation lawyer, back injury lawyer, best car accident lawyer, best car accident lawyers, bicycle accident lawyer, big rig accident lawyer, big rig truck accident, boat accident lawyer, boat accidents, brain injury lawyers, brain damage lawsuit, brain damage lawyer, brain damage lawyers, car accident, car accident claim, car accident death, car accident help, car accident injury lawyer, car accident injury lawyers, car accidents lawyer, car collision lawyer, car collision lawyers, car crash death, Car Crash Injury, car crash injury lawyer, car crash lawyer, car crash lawyers, car wreck lawyer, car wreck lawyers, child birth death, compensatory damages, construction accident lawyer, construction accidents lawyer, death by car accident, death by motorcycle accident, dog bite lawyer, animal bite attorney, DUI, DWI, DUI lawyer, dui attorney, drunk driving, drunk driving accident, drunk driving attorney, defective products lawyer, product liability attorney, products liability lawyer, distracted driver, distracted driving accident, driving laws, mobile phones, cell phones, cell phone accidents, text messaging, texting, texting accident, elder abuse attorney, elder abuse lawyer, failure to warn, future medical costs, fatal accident, fatal auto accident, fatal car accident, fatal car accident lawyer, fatal forklift accident, fatal injury lawyer, fatal truck accident, head injury lawyer, helicopter crash lawyer, highway accident lawyer, highway accidents, jury award, jury verdict, missed diagnosis, medical malpractice attorneys, hospital injury, hospital incompetence, hospital error, hospital negligence, jury award, medical malpractice lawyers, malpractice attorney, hospital injury attorney, medical malpractice lawsuit, medical error, medical malpractice case, medical devices, medical injury lawyer, medical injury attorney, motor vehicle accident, motor vehicle accident lawyer, motor vehicle accident attorneys, negligence lawyer, negligent injury attorney,  lawyer for car accident, lawyers for car accident, pedestrian injuries, personal injury help, Personal Injury Law, premise liability attorney, premise liability lawyer, plane crash lawyer, punitive damages, rig truck accident lawyer, renter attorney, landlord attorney, road traffic accidents, traffic violation, traffic accident attorney, rollover accident, RV accident, RV injury lawyer, slip and fall, slip and fall lawyer, slip and fall attorneys, school bus accident, serious car injury lawyer, truck accident, truck crash lawyer, truck wreck lawyer, trucking accident lawyer, trucking accident lawyers, trucking accidents lawyer, vehicle rollover, whiplash neck injuries, whiplash settlement, Wrongful Death attorney, Wrongful Death attorneys, Wrongful Death Claim, wrongful death complaint, damage caps, tort reform, Lee memorial Health