In a show of bipartisan support, the Florida House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow, for the first time in 30 years, the parents of single, childless adult children to recover noneconomic damages in medical malpractice claims.
Sponsored by Rep. Spencer Roach, HB 6011 passed by a 102-13 vote and was sent to the Florida Senate for consideration. The Senate counterpart, SB 262, has not been heard in any committee after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Danny Burgess delayed a vote on the bill earlier in the Session.
The legislation would attempt to change a complex and complicated portion of Florida law regarding wrongful death that Roach alleges sets up a “Kevorkian like” incentive for physicians who have committed malpractice to allow a patient to die during surgery rather than to save them.
“The reason is of course the living can sue and the dead cannot and that’s why they call it the free kill bill,” Roach said.
If a person’s death is caused by a wrongful act, negligence or breach of contract of another, Florida law allows claims to be brought by the family members or by the estate. Claims can be made for lost wages, benefits and other earnings. Family members also are allowed to sue for support and services the deceased provided and for loss of companionship and guidance.
Damages for mental and emotional suffering can also be sought under state law by a surviving spouse; a child 25 years old or younger; a child 25 or older if there is no surviving spouse; a parent of a deceased child under 25; parents of a deceased child 25 or older if there is no surviving spouse; and a parent of a deceased child 25 or older who had no surviving spouse or children.
When it comes to wrongful deaths stemming from medical malpractice claims, parents of adult children who are not married and do not have children cannot sue for noneconomic damages. Additionally, adults who are 25 or older cannot pursue wrongful death claims for parents who die from medical malpractice.
The ban was adopted by the Legislature in the 1990s during a time when lawmakers were wrestling with increasing malpractice costs. According to a staff analysis, Florida is the only state to treat wrongful death suits differently based on whether they stem from medical malpractice.
“Imagine a doctor goes out to lunch and has three or four martinis and on the way back to the hospital they drive their car through a stop sign and they kill your 26-year-old boy or girl. You can bring a wrongful death suit in that case for economic and noneconomic damages,” Roach said. “You take that same doctor with four martinis; he manages to go through the stop sign and get back to work. Your son or daughter is on the table for a routine appendectomy, and they commit medical malpractice resulting in your child’s death under that case you cannot bring a suit for noneconomic damages. Ask yourself if that is the way in Florida the law should work. I think that’s wrong.”