Searcy Denney Earns Historic Victory in Florida Supreme Court

Thursday, February 2, 2017 General News
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Decision Rejects Legislature's Ability to Limit Attorney Fees in Claims Bills

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Feb. 1, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- On January 31, 2017, the Florida Supreme

Court in a 4-3 decision found the fee and cost restriction in Aaron Edwards' Claim Bill to be unconstitutional and therefore invalid. 

"Thank goodness!" exclaimed Chris Searcy, lead counsel for Aaron Edwards and family.  "Had that limitation been allowed to stand, the negligently injured victims of medical malpractice in special district hospitals in the State of Florida would have been unable to get representation and thus would have been denied access to the Courts."

The Searcy Denney firm has been representing Aaron Edwards and his family since 1999.  Aaron Edwards, who should have been a perfectly normal newborn baby, was severely brain injured by the negligence of a nurse midwife and nurse at one of the hospitals owned by Lee Memorial Health System in August of 1997.  After nearly 10 years of litigation, the case finally went to trial in 2007.  A jury of the citizens of Lee County unanimously found Lee Memorial Health System by and through its agents and employees, to have negligently caused the brain injury to Aaron Edwards. They determined Aaron Edwards' damages to be $28.3 million, his mother's damages to be $1.34 million and his father's damages to be $1 million for a total verdict of $30.8 million.

Because of the special district status of Lee Memorial Health System, which cloaked it with sovereign immunity, the trial judge limited the judgment on the $30.8 million verdict to $200,000.  For Aaron Edwards to receive the rest of his lifelong damages, it was necessary to pass a law in the Florida Legislature requiring the payment by Lee Memorial Health System. Lee Memorial Health System appealed the verdict to the Second District Court of Appeals, which unanimously affirmed the jury's verdict. 

The Searcy Denney firm, with the lobbying assistance of the Grossman Roth Firm, lobbied the Legislature for two years attempting to pass Aaron's Claim Bill.  In 2011, the Florida Legislature passed the Claim Bill for $15 million, only half of Aaron's damages, and inserted a limitation on the attorneys' fees and costs of $100,000

The lawyers had spent more than 7,000 hours of time representing Aaron Edwards over 13 years and had advanced more than $500,000 from their own pockets to cover Aaron Edwards' litigation costs.  The fee and cost restriction did not even allow reimbursement of all costs.  It allowed no fee.

Nevertheless, the trial court upheld the restriction, ordering that while it was very unfair, the trial court did not have the authority to declare it unconstitutional. In a majority opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeals, through Judges Forst and Conner, likewise upheld the constitutionality of the limitation, but Chief Judge Ciklin wrote a dissent stating that the limitation on fees and costs should be stricken as an unconstitutional impairment of the client's right to contract with its attorneys for legally valid attorney's fees and reimbursement of costs. 

The January 31, 2017 Opinion by the Florida Supreme Court reversed the majority decision of Fourth District and adopted the dissent of Chief Judge Ciklin. The Opinion held that the Legislature could add a restriction to a claim bill that was an unconstitutional impairment of a preexisting contract lawfully entered in to by a client and its counsel. 

"The clients were overjoyed with the Supreme Court's decision," added Searcy. "They were very thankful the door to the courthouse was not slammed behind them. This historic decision helps preserve the right of wrongfully injured victims to have access to counsel and the courts."

The case is No. SC15-1747 in the Supreme Court of Florida.

About Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A.A nationally recognized trial law firm, Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A. is committed to protecting and vindicating the rights of people injured through negligence, deceit and abuse of power.  Over the past 40 years, the firm has represented clients in courtrooms throughout Florida and across the nation,

To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:

SOURCE Searcy Denney

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