Families with infants who suffered injuries during birth will receive increased compensation following a legislative revamp of the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA).
Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill (SB) 1786 into law yesterday. The bill reforms NICA which was set up in 1988 to head off a feared mass exodus of doctors leaving the state because of Florida’s high cost of malpractice insurance premiums and to provide support for neurologically injured children and their families.
“The NICA program has been in need of reforms for quite some time now and this legislation is an important step in the right direction. On behalf of all of the NICA families who have struggled, this is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel,” said Senator Danny Burgess, sponsor of the bill.
The NICA reforms include retroactively increasing the initial payment of $100,000 to $250,000 to parents or legal guardians of children accepted into the NICA program. That amount will automatically increase each year by three percent.
It also retroactively increases the death benefit for infants with neurological injuries from $10,000 to $50,000 and provides for coverage up to $10,000 per household, per year, in psychotherapeutic benefits for immediate family members.
The legislation also expands the Board of Directors to include one parent or legal guardian of a plan participant and one representative of a disability advocacy organization.
Prior to the reform legislation, the program received a lot of criticism for being very difficult and stressful for families to navigate and for the up-front payment not changing since the program’s inception.
It was also criticized for superseding medical malpractice lawsuits. With NICA, parents can’t seek what a court of law might deem adequate financial compensation for a doctor or hospital’s mistake. This compensation may far exceed what a family will get through NICA.
“A lot of families are upset and want their day in court,” said Allison McMillan, an attorney with Bounds Law Group, a leading attorney for families trying to navigate NICA and the court system.
However, she said, going through NICA is actually “much quicker and less harrowing for families. They never have to appear in court and the process takes four to six months rather than years.”
She supports the new reforms. Her only dissatisfaction with the new legislation is that families of children who died are not allowed to retroactively collect the additional $150,000, only the additional death benefit.
She said it was “unfair that they aren’t receiving both. Those people are being hurt all over again.”
Overall, though, she said the new reforms are “really good and really overdue.”
Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis pushed hard for this program’s reform.
He said, “With the Governor’s approval of Senate Bill 1786, NICA is now a fundamentally different program. This law represents a major paradigm shift, as of now NICA must be fully engaged in the overall wellbeing of these families and children. Overall, these families are going to get more relief and it is our job to ensure the board is holding NICA accountable and seeing these reforms are implemented.”