Court upholds law on infant weights in injury cases

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a dispute stemming from a baby who suffered neurological injuries because of a lack of oxygen at birth, an appeals court Monday upheld the constitutionality of a state law that sets a minimum weight for infants to be covered through a no-fault compensation program.

The ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal dealt with the Florida Neurological Injury Compensation Act, which provides benefits to infants who suffer severe neurological injuries. Putnam Community Medical Center, a hospital in Palatka, argued that neurological injuries suffered by Jamyrah Debose should be covered through the no-fault program widely known as NICA. Such coverage would shield the hospital from a potential medical-malpractice lawsuit by the child's mother, Jerra Myrick.

An administrative law judge, however, ruled that the injuries should not be covered by NICA because of part of state law that limits such coverage to infants who weigh at least 2,500 grams when there are single births.

The Debose baby, who suffered injuries from a lack of oxygen to her brain, weighed 2,440 grams at birth. The hospital argued to the appeals court that the law was unconstitutional because it set the 2,500-gram threshold in single births but a lower threshold -- 2,000 grams -- in cases involving children injured during multiple births, such as the births of twins.

But in a 12-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the law. The court pointed, in part, to a legislative decision in 2004 that rejected moving the weight threshold to 2,000 grams for cases involving single births.

That decision came after a report showed that lowering the threshold would increase costs for the compensation program.

The ruling by judges Scott Makar, Harvey Jay and M. Kemmerly Thomas said "NICA's weight distinctions withstand constitutional scrutiny because they're rationally related to maintaining the actuarial soundness of its no fault coverage."