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Florida enacts major increases to compensation payable by Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (“NICA”)

On June 21, 2021, Governor DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1786 into law, which makes major increases to the compensation and benefits payable to the families of Florida children who have suffered birth-related neurological injuries. Under a program that became effective in 1989, see Fla. Stat. 766.301-316,a no-fault regime exists in Florida that provides compensation to the families of children with birth-related neurological injuries. In most cases, there is also a corresponding immunity from civil suit for medical providers directly involved with the labor, delivery, or immediate postdelivery resuscitation during which such injury occurs. The no-fault plan is administered by the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (“NICA”). In addition to providing reimbursement for the costs of ongoing care for children with birth-related neurological injuries, the original Act provided for a payment of up to $100,000 to the child’s parents and a $10,000 death benefit for the child.The new law increases these benefits to $250,000 to the child’s parents, with annual increases in the maximum parental award of 3%, and a $50,000 death benefit for the child. In addition, parents who previously received either the lower parental award or the lower child’s death benefit are now entitled to a retroactive payment to bring the parental award and/or child’s death benefit up to the new limits, subject to the proviso that the increase in the parental award is only payable if the child “currently receives benefits” under the plan. The new law also provides for: (1) reimbursement up to $10,000 per year for the cost of psychotherapeutic services rendered to immediate family members of the child; (2) representation on the board of directors by a NICA parent and an advocate for disabled children, and a six-year term limit for all board members; (3) an increase in the lifetime housing assistance and home modification benefit from $30,000 to $100,000; (4) money for wheelchair-accessible vans and a “reliable method of transportation” for the life of children in care; (5) a code of ethics for administrators and board members; and (6) an appeal process at the Division of Administrative Hearings, where NICA petitions are filed, for families to dispute NICA denials.