Did you know Florida is the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t allow family members to sue doctors or hospitals for medical malpractice cases resulting in death when the victim is unmarried?
Florida Statute 768.21(8) is referred to as the “free kill” law because, in many cases, it shields those who have committed deadly medical malpractice from legal consequences. It does this by preventing adult family members from pursuing legal action for a wrongful death of an unmarried, divorced, or childless adult by the hands of medical practitioners or institutions.
The unprecedented, longstanding law, which has been in place since 1990, applies to anyone who receives medical help in the state. This includes residents and visitors alike, effecting everyone who has had a loved one pass away while under the care of medical professionals in Florida.
There are more than enough examples over the years of instances of the “free kill” law’s injustice, but one is the case that the legislation seeking to end this law – the “Keith Davis Family Protection Act” – is actually named after.
Keith Davis, a 62-year-old Navy veteran and Florida resident, died from a pulmonary embolism while receiving treatment for a swollen leg at Brandon Regional Hospital. At the time of his admittance to the hospital, staff were made aware of Davis’s history of blood clots. His daughter ordered an autopsy, which showed her father’s death was due to a massive, nine-inch clot in the same swollen leg that he had sought medical aid for. In addition, an investigation by the Department of Health determined there was probable cause medical malpractice was committed. In other words, the doctor overseeing his care failed to treat the blood clot that killed him.
The consequences the doctor in question received were a $7,500 fine and a requirement for continuing education classes. All the hospital offered Davis’s daughter was to repay his funeral costs and dismiss his medical bills, but only if she signed a confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement. She refused and looked for legal representation.
But after meeting with several lawyers that turned down her case, one of them explained the “free kill” law and how it doesn’t let anyone over the age of 25 sue over the death of a parent if the parent was divorced or unmarried and collect damages for medical negligence or malpractice. This left her with no way to receive the justice she deserved for her father’s wrongful death.
Florida lawmakers on both sides are working together again to overturn this unfair law, reviving measures they filed last Session in an effort to remove the restriction. These measures include the refiling of bills SB 442 and HB 129 by Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, Lithia Republican Rep. Mike Beltran, and Orlando Democratic Rep. Johanna López. The two proposals would, jointly, get rid of the restriction, allowing parents of unmarried children and children of unmarried parents to sue for compensation in cases where negligence or malpractice occurred.
Although it was originally meant to provide incentive for doctors to come to Florida, the “free kill” law has not cut down on the number of medical malpractice damages paid out – the sunshine state ranking third in the nation for them. Instead, all the law has done is stop family members suffering the loss of a loved one from receiving proper justice.