A bill has been introduced in the Florida Senate this week with the aim of rectifying a medical law that has drawn significant criticism over the past 30 years. The law in question, known as the Florida Wrongful Death Act, was approved in 1990 and stipulates that if a patient dies as a result of medical malpractice, their underage children or spouse may seek damages. However, Subsection Eight of the law states that adult children, specifically those over 25 years old, are unable to pursue damages in such cases. Furthermore, parents of an adult patient who dies due to medical malpractice are also barred from seeking damages. This legislation, outlined in Florida Statute 768.21, Subsection Eight, has faced scrutiny and has been derogatorily referred to as the “Free Kill Law.”
According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Florida Wrongful Death Act was initially implemented to mitigate the risk for medical providers in the state, thereby attracting more physicians and reducing the cost of healthcare. However, the law’s shortcomings have become apparent in recent years. Colita Smith recounted her experience to News 6, stating that her father passed away at AdventHealth in November 2023 after she brought him in for dialysis. Smith alleged that her father’s dialysis treatment was delayed for two days, ultimately resulting in his death due to medical malpractice. Smith filed a complaint with the hospital, and third-party doctors reviewed the medical records, concluding that the care provided was appropriate given the symptoms presented. Nevertheless, Smith’s family discovered that they were unable to pursue legal action due to the restrictions imposed by the Florida Wrongful Death Act. Smith expressed her frustration, stating, “It crushed my soul because it’s like, how unfair is that to us?”
Smith’s case highlights the perceived unfairness of the law and the need for reform. Recognizing this, Republican State Sen. Clay Yarborough filed Senate Bill 248 in October 2023 to address these issues. The bill, introduced earlier this week, aims to amend Subsection Eight of the Florida Wrongful Death Act, allowing adult children and parents of adult patients to seek damages in cases of medical malpractice. If signed into law, these proposed changes would come into effect on July 1.
In an exclusive interview with News 6, Smith emphasized the importance of rectifying the current law, arguing that it deprives individuals of a voice and the opportunity to fight for justice on behalf of their loved ones. She stated, “That law takes away from people having a voice, people having the opportunity to fight for their loved ones and to get the justice that they need.”
The full text of Senate Bill 248 has been included with this news article and is available for viewing in the attached media viewer below. As the bill progresses through the legislative process, its potential impact on medical malpractice cases in Florida remains to be seen.