Lee Memorial sends $10M to injured teen

Mitzi Roden who now lives in Canyon City, Colo., holding her 14-year-old son Aaron Edwards react as the Florida Senate passes a claims bill for her son during session on Wednesday, March 7, 2012, in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

Photo by Steve Cannon

Mitzi Roden who now lives in Canyon City, Colo., holding her 14-year-old son Aaron Edwards react as the Florida Senate passes a claims bill for her son during session on Wednesday, March 7, 2012, in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

The Lee Memorial Health System has paid $10 million of a $15 million claims bill to an injured Colorado teenager, which the Florida Legislature approved last year and sent shock waves through the public hospital system.

The $10 million was sent Dec. 20 to the attorney of Aaron Edwards, 15, who lives in Colorado with his mother, Mitzi Roden, according to a statement from Lee Memorial spokeswoman Mary Briggs.

"Lee Memorial Health System has complied with the requirements of the Edwards claims bill legislation," Briggs said. "The health system does not have taxing authority, nor does it receive direct tax support, so the claims bill was paid from the general operating budget with funds which otherwise would have been used to provide vital health care services to our community."

The remaining $5 million will be paid in annual installments every July 1 for five years, Briggs said.

Edwards was born Sept. 5, 1997, at HealthPark Medical Center and suffers from severe cerebral palsy after problems with a medication used during his delivery. The medication caused brain damage and he is confined to a wheelchair, according to the claims bill.

A Lee County jury in 2007 awarded $31 million in damages, which was upheld on appeals. For verdicts that large, the state Legislature must approve them through claims bills.

State lawmakers approved $15 million for Edwards during the 2012 session, which became the second largest claims bill ever in the state.

Lee Memorial officials maintained they were not responsible for Edwards' injuries and said key evidence was never introduced during the medical malpractice trial.

Last year when the Legislature was in session and the Edwards claims was being considered, the teen's West Palm Beach attorney, Chris Searcy, aired television commercials about his case. The advertisements targeted Southwest Florida lawmakers who were running for re-election.

Searcy could not be reached for comment Wednesday and neither could Edwards' mother in Colorado.

However, the teen's mother emailed NBC-2.

"The new year will give Aaron a fighting chance to have what most take for granted," she wrote. "He wants to become a lawyer, and he wants to become a book writer, and he wants to make video games."

The email also said the money will be placed in a trust fund.

Lee Memorial officials said the hospital system was painted as insensitive to the teen's needs and they had depended on the sovereign immunity law as protection. That law limits damages to $300,000 for public institutions, which had already been paid years earlier.

Last June after Gov. Rick Scott signed the Edwards claims bill, the publicly elected Lee Memorial board decided to purchase medical malpractice insurance with coverage of $25 million. The board also decided to establish an internal panel that would have the authority to settle lawsuits on a case-by-case basis.

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