Medical malpractice laws in Florida dictate that only a spouse or children can file a lawsuit. However, Michael and Patricia Lawley may have found a loophole. When their 31-year-old daughter, Shannon Lawley, died in a Florida hospital four years ago, they were stunned that they did not have the rights to pursue medical malpractice. So instead, they have filed a lawsuit through the state’s “Wrongful Death Act”, using a claim of “outrageous behavior” on behalf of the Brevard County hospital to earn their place in court. The lawsuit was filed against Wuesthoff Hospital, Health Management Associates, the company’s former presidents, and several doctors.
The lawsuit claims that Health Management Associates placed pressure on the hospital to keep beds full, even going so far as to impose quotas for admissions on doctors in the emergency department. This led to some patients being admitted unnecessarily and overcrowding. It also prevented some patients from being transferred to other facilities for immediately treatment, which is exactly what happened to Shannon Lawley, causing her death. The lawsuit states, “The conduct of HMA was intentional, reckless, and outrageous. It was designed to place corporate profits ahead of patient care and wellbeing.”
For Shannon Lawley, the fatal encounter with HMA’s policies began with a 10 hour wait in the emergency room. Although her condition was critical, the hospital had no beds available in the intensive care unit so she was forced to remain in the emergency room. By the time she was transferred, she was in a diabetic coma and needed life support. Her life ended just four weeks later. Despite the gross negligence of the hospital, the bill for Lawley’s care totaled close to $370,000.
This isn’t the first time HMA’s policies have been questioned and criticized. The company was also featured on “60 Minutes” in late 2012, with several doctors coming forward to talk about the absurd quotas they had to meet for admissions, with no regard for medical necessity. To make matters worse, HMA hospitals were forced to pay $15 million back to the federal government after being accused of overbilling Medicare on patient claims.
For a hospital that is supposed to provide care to people in emergency medical situations to be more concerned with admission quotas and financial gain is truly unacceptable. Federal investigations in HMA are underway and the Lawley family hopes that their daughter’s story will be instrumental in bringing change to a healthcare system that is failing so many sick people in Florida and around the nation.
“The Lawleys are very brave to keep pursuing this case even after they hit so many roadblocks,” said personal injury attorney Christopher Ligori of Tampa. “The only way these systems can be changed is with persistent work from families that have suffered from the unethical policies and medical quota systems.”
For the Lawley family, there is no amount of money that could ever help them recover what they lost in the life of the daughter. However, they hope that the story of her life and ultimately, her death, will help be an agent for change in Florida’s hospitals.