Shannon Lawley was a young, vibrant, 31-year-old chemist with her life ahead of her. She was a Bright Futures scholarship winner and a University of Florida graduate. When she became sick in 2012, she visited the Brevard County hospital emergency room and waited over ten hours to see a doctor because intensive care unit beds were all full. By the time she was taken to the ICU, she had already fallen into a diabetic coma. Lawley was placed on artificial life support but tragically lost her life four weeks later. What exactly happened in the interim is unknown, because her parents are unable to file a wrongful death lawsuit on her behalf.
Shannon’s parents wanted to file a medical malpractice suit after being told by a pathologist that Shannon had been given the wrong drug during her treatment, but they were unable to because Florida allows only spouses or “minor children” (defined as under 25 years of age) to sue for medical malpractice. Shannon Lawley did not have a spouse or “minor children”. Other types of negligence cases allow family members to file lawsuits on behalf of the victim, but medical malpractice law is different. Lawley’s father protested to the Florida legislature shortly after she died, claiming that surviving family members should be permitted to file lawsuits. Legislators instead backed a different bill, one that made it even more difficult to file lawsuits against doctors and hospitals.
Florida’s Wrongful Death Act
In Florida, only spouses or “minor children” of the victim can file a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit. However, the wrongful death act allows others to file lawsuits based on “outrageous behavior.” Lawley’s parents filed against Wuesthoff Hospital in Brevard County, among others, alleging that the hospital and its parent company imposed admission quotas on emergency room physicians, which left necessary beds unavailable for those in sincere need of emergency treatment. Overcrowding, the suit alleges, contributed to Lawley’s death by preventing her from receiving emergency treatment at the time she needed it. The complaint alleges that such conduct amounts to intentional, reckless, and outrageous behavior because it put corporate profits above patient care.
Another family affected by the very same law is fighting to change the law. Linda Porter’s son Pete died 12 years ago at Morton Plant North Bay Hospital. The 38-year-old man went to the hospital after experiencing abdominal pain but soon went into respiratory arrest and died less than two months later. His mother believes his death was caused by an incorrect dosage of medication. Like the Lawleys, Porter wanted to file a lawsuit to find out what exactly had caused her son’s death, but because he was unmarried and had no children, she was barred from filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Until Florida legislators respond to parents’ requests, families are on their own to determine the best course of action. The Lawleys are attempting to hold the hospital accountable using another legal avenue, while Porter started a petition on change.org urging that the laws be changed to hold hospitals accountable for preventable deaths.
Contact an Experienced Ocala Wrongful Death Lawyer
If you believe your child wrongfully lost his or her life and there is no spouse or “minor child” to file a lawsuit, you may still have options. Experienced lawyer, John Piccin, at Piccin & Glynn in Ocala can help you navigate this difficult process and ensure that you receive any compensation you may be entitled to. Call John at 352-581-6174, or contact him online, for your free initial case consultation today.