Florida’s so-called “Free Kill Law” is in the news again after a local hospital refused to treat a woman’s adult son, allegedly leading to his death 3 weeks later. Although a state investigation found that Tradition Hospital committed 4 violations of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), a judge dismissed the mother’s wrongful death case against the hospital because she sued for $10 million – more than allowed by The 2020 Florida Statutes §768.21.
§768.21 – Florida’s Free Kill Law
This controversial section of the Florida Wrongful Death Act is known as “Florida’s Free Kill Law.” Essentially, §768.21 prevents parents from recovering non-economic damages if their adult children are killed by medical negligence, limiting them to about $10,000 for medical bills and funeral costs. Critics gave the law its macabre nickname because medical providers face little to no consequences for mistakes that kill unmarried adults with no minor children.
Further, the parents of adult children and the adult children of unmarried parents cannot sue for mental pain and suffering. In the case against Tradition Hospital, the mother in question went into the hospital 4 times, begging for help. A charge nurse came outside and refused to screen or stabilize her child, and she fled to another hospital after 40 minutes of pleading. By this time, her son had aspirated into his lung and suffered irrecoverable damage. Surely, this warrants damages for pain and suffering – and the hospital should face serious financial repercussions instead of a $10,000 “slap on the wrist.”
Parents like the woman in this story and adult children with unmarried parents are the law’s biggest adversaries. In a similar news story, a woman had no legal recourse after she lost her widowed father to over sedation at a local hospital.
House Bill 651 and Senate Bill 1112
For years, Florida residents have challenged §768.21, calling it unconstitutional and going so far as to fight the law in the Florida Supreme Court. House Bill 651 and Senate Bill 1112 take a different approach and seek to close the loophole in Florida’s Wrongful Death Act by amending the law.
Unfortunately, HB 651 and SB 1112 have fearsome opponents, including the medical malpractice insurance industry. Lobbyists claim the bills would lead to “an increase in ‘frivolous’ lawsuits,” drive up insurance costs, and keep doctors away from Florida.
At Lauri J. Goldstein & Associates, PLLC, we simply do not understand how a wrongful death lawsuit could be “frivolous.” We stand with those who have lost loved ones to negligence, and we believe wrongdoers should be held accountable for their behavior.