TALLAHASSEE -- A year ago this month, Michael Lawley of Melbourne disconnected the respirator that was keeping his brain-damaged daughter alive.
Shannon Lawley had entered a Brevard County emergency room suffering from what an autopsy would later determine was acute pancreatitis. She waited five hours as the understaffed team failed to monitor her vital signs or transfer her to intensive care, her father told the House Subcommittee on Civil Justice last week.
Doctors eventually administered heart medicine without realizing Shannons heart was functioning properly, he recalled. She went into cardiac arrest. Her lung collapsed as the medical team attempted resuscitation and her brain was deprived of oxygen for seven minutes, causing irreversible brain damage and gangrene, he said.
After multiple tests and second opinions, I took her off the respirator and she died two days later, Lawley told the panel. My daughter deserved better. She didnt get it. The health care system in Florida failed her.
Lawley, 60, a certified public account, has no recourse. The states medical malpractice laws were rewritten by lawmakers in 2003 and included changes that prevent parents of adult children from recovering most damages. Shannon, a University of Florida graduate with a degree in chemistry, was 31 years old and had no spouse or children.
Now, Lawley wants the law changed, and hes speaking out.
Bills moving quickly through the Republican-controlled Florida House, and under review in the state Senate, would expand Floridas medical malpractice laws, adopt legal standards used in other states, and shield hospitals, doctors and nursing homes from lawsuits under certain conditions.
Justice isnt about money, Lawley told the House subcommittee before it passed HB 827. This is about finding the truth, and holding people accountable for their actions. If there is no accountability, youll never have responsibility.
Holding negligence accountable has become secondary to the push to hold down health care costs this legislative session, as Florida lawmakers grapple with how to implement the federal health care reform act. Hospitals, doctors and health care providers are demanding more limits on liability, saying it is needed to attract new doctors and lower costs.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida, two business groups heavily funded by the health care industry, last week announced their support of accepting federal dollars for Medicaid expansion, but only if certain conditions were met including more medical liability and tort reform.
There is some evidence we ought to take a look at some of these things, said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who helped steer the 2003 reforms through the Senate. But theres no settled view of how its going to look.
He said reduced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, and the need for more doctors, are contributing to the push by lawmakers to take another look at medical liability laws.
The health care industry has helped the effort, delivering millions of dollars in campaign cash into Republican coffers to help House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz secure a GOP majority in the Legislature.