Since 1988, parents of children who suffered a specific type of Florida birth injury – profound brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation or spinal impairment – could file no-fault claims with the Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, or NICA. Such conditions occur at birth, impact the child for life, and are frequently the result of medical malpractice.
Obstetricians had lobbied the state for a program like this decades ago arguing high insurance premiums would push them out of the state. The program might have seemed a win-win – had parents not been forced to fight for coverage of every expense. While parents were prevented from suing doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers for injuries caused by their negligence during labor and delivery, they were promised adequate coverage for expenses that were both necessary medically and reasonable. That’s not what they received, many now say.
Earlier this year, The Miami Herald teamed up with ProPublica to analyze the issue, finding that NICA, despite amassing billions in assets from doctors’ annual fees, often left families begging for assistance. As our West Palm Beach medical malpractice attorneys have learned, those findings have since been affirmed by at least two state investigations (the auditor general and Office of Insurance Regulation). Soon thereafter, state lawmakers passed a reform bill unanimously, upping parental damage awards to $250,000 (more than double what it was) and child death benefits to $50,000 – five times what it used to be. These benefits are retroactive. Another $100,000 per family has been allocated for guaranteed transport and home modifications.
The law also pledged to make the best interests of the child Priority No. 1. Also for the first time, a parent advocate and an advocate for disabled children were added to NICA;s board. There’s also now an ombudsman who will work directly with parents. The previous executive director of the agency resigned, and a new interim ED has been assigned.
Parents say they are still hoping lawmakers will approve increased benefits for those who set aside their careers to remain at home and become caregivers for their severely disabled children. Continue reading