1 of 3 High-Profile Negligence Claims Bills Reaches Florida Gov. Scott’s Desk

By | March 9, 2012

Aaron Edwards squirmed in delight on his mother’s lap in the Florida Senate gallery Wednesday as the chamber passed a bill to compensate him for negligence during his birth at a public hospital 14 years ago that left him unable to walk, talk or control his limbs.

The legislation (HB 965) went to Gov. Rick Scott after the 32-4 roll call. It would require Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers to pay Aaron $15 million — $10 million in a lump sum and $1 million annually for five years.

Scott, who once headed a major private hospital chain, will review the bill, said spokesman Lane Wright.

“He was jumping and my arms were about to fall off,” said Aaron’s mother, Mitzi Roden, after putting him in his wheelchair outside the chamber. “He can’t balance himself, but he can move his legs.”

The Senate passed two other high-profile claims bills but sent both back to the House with amendments.

One of those bills (SB 4) would require an insurance company for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office to pay $10.75 million to 32-year-old Eric Brody. He suffered brain damage and paralysis 14 years ago when a speeding deputy, who was late for work, crashed into his car.

The other (HB 7131) would authorize the city to Tallahassee to pay $2.4 million to the parents of 23-year-old undercover police informant Rachel Hoffman who was murdered during a botch drug sting.

The brain damage that Aaron suffered left him with cerebral palsy, spasticity and other injures but spared his cognitive abilities. He is bright, knows what’s going on around him and can communicate by computer.

“He wants to become a lawyer and he wants to become a book writer and he wants to do video games,” Roden said. “He has a lot of plans for the future.”

Roden, who now lives with Aaron in Canon City, Colo., said if Scott signs the claims bill it should provide him with the kind of around-the-clock care, schooling and equipment he’d need to fulfill those dreams.

A jury awarded Aaron $30.8 million, but under Florida law the most that could be paid without passage of a claims bill was $200,000. Aaron’s bill, though, cuts that amount about in half.

Even after the verdict was upheld on appeal, Lee Memorial denied it did anything wrong and successfully defeated a similar claims bill last year. It never offered to settle until last week by proposing $5 million with the state picking up the tab.

On Wednesday, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, put on the table another offer by Lee Memorial of $7.25 million, but the Senate rejected that proposal.

Bennett argued the bill requires Lee Memorial to pay far more than Aaron needs because Colorado is picking up his medical expenses, and it would deprive the hospital system, which has no insurance, of money that could be used to treat other children. He said it would cost Lee Memorial $20 million annual for insurance and noted this is the first claim the system has had.

“All the money in the world is not going to provide what this child is going to need,” Bennett said. “Fifteen million, 10 million, 20 million, 50 million, it’s not going to make this kid walk.”

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, replied that Lee Memorial has ample reserves to cover the claims bill and that it shouldn’t be Colorado’s responsibility “to take care of a citizen injured in Florida by a Florida entity.”

“For a hospital to pawn off their responsibilities on another state to me is not the way things should be done,” Negron said.

Roden said Colorado’s Medicaid program doesn’t provide the kind of custom equipment Aaron needs. She said the first thing she will do if the bill is signed is look into a school that will provide him with a more advanced computer so he can communicate quicker by using eye movements. She said his schooling would cost $650,000 a year. She’s now home schooling him.

Lance Block, a lawyer representing Brody and Hoffman’s parents, said he believes both bills have a good chance of final passage before the legislative session ends Friday.

As passed by the House, the bills have a sliding scale for legal and lobbying fees capped at $400,000. The Senate’s amendments keep those limits but claimants would pay up to 25 percent of each bill’s total award. That could raise the fees from $270,000 to $600,000 for the Hoffman bill and from $400,000 to nearly $2.7 million for the Brody bill.

Eric Brody’s father, Chuck Brody, said he doesn’t have a number in mind but it’s more than $400,000.

“Lance has spent 14 years on this …, devoted 14 years to Eric’s cause,” the elder Brody said.

The Senate did not change a $100,000 fee limit in Aaron’s bill.

Lee Memorial issued a statement continuing to insist it did nothing wrong and denying it has funds set aside to pay the claim.