Fla. boy leaves hospital after nearly 11 years Victim of medical errors can barely hear or see

November 14, 1995|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Nearly 11 years after Justin Bates was carried into the emergency room at the Broward General Medical Center, he was met in the lobby yesterday by his mother and stepfather, Cynthia and Matthew Mendat, as he left a second-floor room that has been his home since he was 16-months-old.

More than a dozen relatives and friends and as many reporters joined the parents to greet Justin, who can barely see or hear. He cannot talk or eat without the help of tubes and machinery.

Originally brought to the hospital for treatment of an asthma attack, he is in what doctors call a vegetative state because of a series of errors by the hospital's staff that caused irreversible brain damage.

The family won $6.2 million in a 1990 lawsuit, but Justin's parents could not afford to take him home because the hospital refused to pay the award, even though it admitted fault in what began as a malpractice suit.

The hospital claimed protection under a state law that limits liability against a government entity to $200,000. Some version of the law, known as sovereign immunity, exists in many states, an effort to protect public agencies from frivolous or outrageously large lawsuits.

In June, the Florida legislature passed a claims bill to provide a monthly stipend of $20,000 for Justin's care and a lump sum of about $1.4 million, in part to pay lawyers' fees of at least $500,000.

The money also provided the family with a new, $330,000 house that includes a resting place for nurses who will work 12-hour shifts, ramps for Justin's new wheelchair, special plumbing fixtures and a therapy room.

Yesterday, three medical technicians moved Justin, his breathing and feeding apparatus, and supplies from the ambulance into his new bedroom, which is decorated with dozens of balloons, Miami Dolphins paraphernalia, and Disney decals.

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