Panel OKs Settlement to Amputee in ER Case

Posted By The Miami Herald | 9-Apr-1996

It has been eight years since negligence in the emergency room at North Broward Medical Center cost Jaharvis Frazier the use of his legs and an arm. But the 11-year-old Pompano Beach boy and his mother got some long-awaited news Monday when a legislative committee in Tallahassee approved a bill ordering payment of $3 million to the family. The North Broward Hospital District, which operates North Broward Medical Center, admits it was at fault and supports the bill, which must yet pass both houses of the Legislature to become law.

Jaharvis was a few weeks shy of his third birthday when he was taken to North Broward's emergency room on March 21, 1988, suffering a high fever, restlessness and other symptoms.

A doctor prescribed Tylenol and took blood tests, but according to a House lawyer's review of the case, Jaharvis sat in an examining room for nearly two hours before a pediatrician examined him.

By then his condition had worsened and a form of meningitis had stopped the flow of blood to his diseased limbs, forcing the amputation of both lower legs and an arm the next day.

"For some unexplained reason, it took approximately an hour and 45 minutes before the pediatrician examined Jaharvis," said Gerald Curington, the House attorney or special master, who recommended the $3 million settlement Monday. The delay in treatment caused not only the amputation of Jaharvis' limbs, but "significant disfigurement and scarring," Curington told the House Claims Committee.

It took just minutes for the committee to vote 6-0 in favor of a $3 million settlement in a bill (HB 1155) sponsored by Rep. Willie Logan, D-Opa-locka, and in the Senate by Sen. Daryl Jones, D-Miami.

But most surprising was an announcement by the hospital district's key lobbyist, Tom Panza, that the tax-supported district supports the payment, even though no jury had heard the case. Lawmakers are not used to hearing North Broward Hospital District lobbyists agree to pay $3 million.

Panza's statement was in stark contrast to a year ago, when the district hired extra lobbyists and spent the session fighting a measure to require a multimillion-dollar claim to Justin Bates, a Broward boy left brain-damaged due to negligence at another district-run hospital.

Panza, who worked on a two-day settlement of the Frazier case, said any comparison between the two cases is unfair.

"Our position is, whenever we can work it out and get people paid, that's what we do," Panza said. "If there's a reasonable settlement and there's liability, the district wants to do the right thing for the child. In the Bates case, I think there was some legitimate disagreement."

Panza said last year's fight over the Bates case made him decide he would no longer lobby for the district to win passage of claims bills unless both sides had reached a settlement.

Jaharvis Frazier's mother, Lillie Willis, sued the hospital district in 1991. The district agreed to settle the case as long as the two sides could agree on the amount. Under state law, governments can be required to pay a maximum of $200,000 in liability cases, unless the state Legislature orders a higher amount.
"We believed that it was in the best interest of the child to get it resolved," said Stephen Malove, the Parkland attorney who represents the family. To speed the settlement, Malove said he agreed to accept 20 percent of the claim or $600,000 in legal fees, less than the 25 percent maximum permitted under state law.
Of the remaining $2.4 million, $2 million will be used to buy a long-term annuity to care for Jaharvis for the rest of his life. Another $400,000 was set aside for Willis and Jaharvis to buy a new home and for other expenses.

Willis also filed a separate lawsuit against Coastal Emergency Services of Hollywood, the company that provided emergency room doctors at Broward General. Coastal's insurance carrier settled for $1.2 million.
Categories: In the News