Legislature debates "Tony's bill'

Published March 21, 1995|Updated Oct. 3, 2005

A 7-year-old boy who came close to having his penis severed by a doctor who thought he was a girl has become the focal point of a bill that would strip away limits on medical malpractice claims filed on behalf of children.

Tony Valdes was 4{ months old when his parents took him to a doctor for hernia surgery. Tony's parents, Joe and Elaina Valdes of West Palm Beach, came to Tallahassee on Monday to describe the plight of a child who had his testicles sewn into his abdomen by a doctor in West Palm Beach.

Mrs. Valdes said the doctor told them that Tony had female sexual organs and tried to convince them to let him remove the child's penis. They refused, but spent the next two years believing that their child was a hermaphrodite _ having both male and female sexual organs.

Then a pediatric surgeon examined Tony and told the family that the first doctor goofed. During that first surgery the doctor mistakenly thought the baby's testes were ovaries and implanted them in his abdomen. That operation all but destroyed one testicle and damaged the other.

The family soon learned that the statute of limitations that would have allowed a malpractice suit against the first doctor had expired by 14 days.

Mrs. Valdes said her son has been seriously scarred by the operations and will need more surgery as he grows older. She said doctors have told them that the boy is likely to be sterile when he grows up and will need additional medical treatment.

Lobbyists for the Florida Academy of Trial Lawyers said the situation is ample evidence of what is wrong with Florida law. Regardless of age, patients have two years to file malpractice lawsuits against doctors. If the mistake isn't uncovered immediately, they have another two years from the time it is discovered. But they're out of luck after four years unless fraud is involved. In those cases, the deadline is seven years.

Only Florida extends the same statute of limitations to children that it gives to adults when it comes to matters of medical malpractice, West Palm Beach lawyer Theodore Babbitt told legislators.

Forty-seven other states, all but Louisiana and Connecticut, have special laws for children because it is difficult to determine the extent of damage to young children, Babbitt said.

A bill introduced by Rep. Carlos LaCasa, R-Miami, would extend the time limit for filing a lawsuit to a child's eighth birthday. Members of a House subcommittee on the Judiciary approved the bill on a 5-3 vote Monday despite opposition from hospitals and companies that provide malpractice insurance for doctors.

Supporters of LaCasa's bill, which Mrs. Valdes calls "Tony's bill," wore red and white "Tolling for Tony" buttons Monday at the Capitol, calling attention to the effort to remove the bar to a lawsuit.

Vince Rio, lobbyist for the state's teaching hospitals and Physicians Protective Trust Fund, said a change in the law would substantially increase the costs of malpractice insurance and health care.