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Shortcomings in Florida Law Cited in Malpractice Lawsuit

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Florida law allows for the filing of wrongful death lawsuits by those who lose spouses or parents through medical malpractice. However, this right does not extend to the parents of the deceased.

The shortcomings in the law were tragically realized by Michael and Patricia Lawley, who in 2012 lost their 31-year-old daughter Shannon to what they claim was the negligence of a hospital in Rockledge. Circumventing the law, the couple has filed a lawsuit under the state’s Wrongful Death Act that claims “outrageous behavior” on the part of the medical facility. The lawsuit was filed last month in the Brevard Circuit court.

According to the couple’s complaint, their daughter had to wait 10 hours in the emergency room at Wuesthoff Hospital because there were no available beds in the intensive care unit. During her long wait, she reportedly fell into a diabetic coma, necessitating her placement on artificial life support. She died four weeks later, having accumulated a hospital bill of nearly $370,000. In addition to the medical facility directly involved and several physician groups, the suit is targeting Health Management Associates (HMA), which was once the hospital’s parent corporation, and that organization’s former president.

The lawsuit alleges that HMA pressured its medical facilities to utilize admission quotas for the purpose of keeping beds filled with patients, some of whom may not have required hospitalization. In some cases, patients were not transferred to other hospitals despite overcrowding at a particular HMA facility. Describing the conduct of the organization as “reckless and outrageous,” the plaintiff further claims that the policy emphasized corporate profits over the care of patients.

At one time possessing 70 hospitals in 15 states, HMA was the subject of an investigation by the news program “60 Minutes” in 2012. It was during that broadcast that several doctors accused HMA of demanding such quotas. In an apparently unrelated matter, 16 HMA hospitals have agreed to pay more than $15 million in damages pertaining to charges of overbilling Medicare, the federal health insurance program for senior citizens. This settlement was reached after the purchase of HMA by Community Health Systems (CHS), based in Tennessee. A spokesman for CHS said that the company would not comment on pending litigation, but added that Wuesthoff Hospital was not a member of its group at the time of the Lawley incident. Michael Lawley actually took the issue all the way to the Florida state legislature, which refused to make changes in the law.

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