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Bill aims to kill portions of Florida’s ‘free kill’ law, but it doesn’t help all families

HB 77 would lift limitations on who can sue for medical malpractice if adult child dies
Doctor's office
Posted at 4:37 PM, Sep 27, 2023

Florida families aren’t buying a new bill that aims to give them more rights to sue over medical negligence.

“It would be amazing if that was the case,” said Cindy Jenkins of Jacksonville.

“I’m disappointed,” said Sabrina Davis, who lives with her son in Gainesville.

Long dubbed by critics as Florida’s "free kill" law, the 33-year-old law states if someone 25 or older dies due to medical malpractice in Florida, only a spouse or child under the age of 25 can sue for pain and suffering.

Related Story: Families say it’s time for Florida’s ‘free kill’ law to die; data shows they may be right

Jenkins just discovered the law earlier this year after living its impact.

“There are no words to express how it feels,” she told us.

Jenkins’ daughter, Taylor, was 25 years old, unmarried, with no children when she died at an Osceola County hospital after getting rear-ended at a red light.

Doctors initially claimed Taylor died of a brain injury. Her mom said an independent autopsy later revealed Taylor had succumbed to internal bleeding that went undiagnosed and untreated for hours.

HB 77, filed by Florida Representative Spencer Roach, a Republican representing parts of Fort Myers, aims to amend the law by giving parents like Cindy the right to sue the doctor and hospital she blames for her daughter’s death.

But even with the bill, Jenkins isn’t convinced Florida’s so-called ‘’free kill’ law will die anytime soon.

“The bill ends up typically being a bargaining chip,” Jenkins said, referring to recent attempts to repeal the law.

Over the past two legislative sessions, similar bills have passed in the House but went nowhere in a Senate heavily focused on tort reform and keeping big business away from pricey lawsuits.

“They see this as a banking and insurance issue, and the people see this as an individual rights issue. So, we're on two different pages of viewpoint,” said Melody McDonald. She’s been fighting to end the law since 2016 after she lost her 64-year-old father.

“My father was medically overdosed and given a black box combination of drugs that are known to cause death,” she said.

While the latest bill would lift lawsuit limitations for some families like Cindy Jenkins, it doesn’t help everyone, including McDonald, since she was an adult when her father died.

“There is no one to hold accountable,” she said. “So that just — it just makes for a different kind of grief. It's a lot more challenging to process,” McDonald explained.

“Honestly, it's painful,” said Sabrina Davis, who also would not be included if the bill passed. Davis was also an adult when her father died at a Hillsborough County hospital three years ago from an undiagnosed blood clot in his leg.

“I’m disappointed because our goal here as advocates is to restore the equal rights and equal protection of Floridians or anyone who comes here. And this bill, House Bill 77, it's not an equal bill,” Davis said.

We reached out to Representative Roach and asked why his bill doesn’t end this law for everyone; in an email, he explained how this is his fourth year sponsoring or co-sponsoring a bill to change the law but offered no explanation why this bill lifts limitations for parents, but no other family members prohibited from filing suits.

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