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Bouvia Loses Bid to Have County Pay Legal Fees

August 21, 1986|KIM MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

A judge on Wednesday denied a request that Los Angeles County pay legal fees for quadriplegic Elizabeth Bouvia, rejecting arguments that Bouvia had won new rights for patients who turn down medical treatment.

Bouvia incurred more than $115,000 in legal fees in her successful battle to prevent doctors at a county-operated hospital in Lancaster from force-feeding her.

Attorneys for the bed-ridden cerebral palsy patient, who gained nationwide notoriety when she announced plans to starve herself, said that they will appeal the decision and filed a new motion to pursue an $11-million malpractice claim against the doctors who treated her.

Bouvia's attorneys had argued that the 29-year-old quadriplegic's case established an important precedent for the rights of all patients to refuse medical treatment--not just the elderly or terminally ill. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Warren Deering said that battle had already been won long before Bouvia came to court.

Ruling Overturned

It was Deering who originally denied Bouvia's right to refuse a force-feeding tube. His ruling was overturned when a state appellate court found that there was no evidence that Bouvia was attempting to commit suicide, and under existing law was "clearly" entitled to a court order blocking the forced feeding.

Bouvia's attorneys went to court last week seeking reimbursement of legal fees under a state law that entitles plaintiffs to payment of fees if, through their cases, they have conferred a "substantial benefit" on a large group of people.

Richard S. Scott, a lawyer for Bouvia, said he believes that an appellate court will concur in his view that Bouvia, for the first time, established the right of young, non-terminally ill adults to refuse medical treatment, even if such treatment is necessary to save their lives.

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