Claims bill against USF moves forward
A Senate committee today revived a nearly $25 million claims bill in a “wrongful birth” case against the University of South Florida in Tampa. The vote from the Senate Rules Committee was 7 to 3.
USF and its lawyers say approving the disputed claim sets a bad precedent for the state’s medical schools and may not necessarily be paid by its insurer.
Lawyer Mac Stipanovich, who is representing USF, said “This would be bad for (USF), this would be bad for the system.”
He said USF had offered a pre-trial settlement of $3 million but didn’t take the couple up on a counter-offer of $7 million.
Senate Special Master John Van Laningham also recommended against the claim, saying the case had merit but “if this bill were to pass a huge sum of public money would be placed at risk, at a time when the state is facing a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall.”
The case involved a couple who decided to have a second child after a USF geneticist told them future pregnancies would produce healthy children. The couple, Amara and Daniel Estrada, already had one son, who was severely disabled but undiagnosed.
Their second son turned out to have the same disorder, later identified as Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome, that the first one did. Both children now require round-the-clock care and depend on feeding tubes.
In 2007 a Hillsborough County jury awarded the couple $23.5 million but the couple could only get $200,000. Because USF is a government entity protected by sovereign immunity, the couple must ask the state Legislature to pass a claims bill granting them the remainder of the verdict.
An attempt to run the claims bill died last year for lack of House support. This year, Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, filed the bill again.
“It is undisputed this is egregious medical malpractice,” Jones said.
The Estradas, who now live in Gainesville, did not attend today's hearing. Their lawyer, John Shipley, said they could not make the drive with their sons. "This is a terrible situation for this family," he said.
USF has a self-insurance program that might pay $3 million and two-state alone excess policies that could cover the rest, according to the special masters report.