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Supreme Court Urged To Take Up Claim Dispute

The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

An appeals court Wednesday asked the Florida Supreme Court to take up a dispute about the constitutionality of a 2012 legislative move that limited fees paid to attorneys who represented a child severely injured at birth.

A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal in July upheld the fee limit, which was included in a legislative "claim" bill for the child, Aaron Edwards. But the appeals court Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to resolve the constitutional issue, a legal step known as certifying a question to the Supreme Court.

The Edwards claim bill was a high-profile issue during the 2012 legislative session. It stemmed from a successful lawsuit the child's family filed against Southwest Florida's Lee Memorial Health System because of brain injuries that Aaron Edwards suffered at birth in 1997.

The state's sovereign-immunity laws limited to $200,000 the amount Lee Memorial could be forced to pay without the Legislature passing a claim bill directing a higher amount.

Lawmakers in 2012 passed such a bill directing the hospital system to pay $15 million because of the injuries, but the bill also included a restriction that only $100,000 of that amount could go to attorneys.

The West Palm Beach-based law firm Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A., which spent years representing the child and his parents in the legal fight against Lee Memorial, challenged the constitutionality of the fee limit, which led to the July ruling by the appeals court.