Florida – On Monday, Florida Senators discussed a new bill for the first time. This bill, known as SB 248, is trying to change an old law often called Florida’s ‘free kill’ law. For 33 years, this law has stopped certain adult children or parents from taking legal action against doctors or hospitals if their unmarried parent or adult child dies due to medical errors or negligence.
Caps to serve as a middle ground
However, there’s a big issue that many families find upsetting and expensive. Last Friday, Senator Clay Yarborough, who introduced the bill, proposed a change. He suggested that while ending the old law, there should be limits on how much money people can ask for in medical negligence cases. In Florida, the amount would be capped at $500,000 per person and $750,000 if the lawsuit is against a non-doctor, like a hospital or medical office.
Senator Yarborough sees this as a middle ground. He believes it will allow families to seek fairness without driving doctors away due to fear of high malpractice claims and costs. This fear was the reason the original law was made over 30 years ago.
Investigative reporter Katie LaGrone looked into the law and discovered that Florida’s wrongful death law hasn’t really reduced malpractice claims or costs. Also, there isn’t much proof that medical malpractice claims and costs are making doctors leave Florida. This is important because lawmakers often say this is why they keep the law.
On Monday, Senator Clay Yarborough, who leads the Senate Committee on Judiciary, presented his bill. He started by saying that the current state law is definitely unfair. His bill got a lot of different responses. Senator Lauren Book proposed a change to Yarborough’s idea. She wanted to remove the limits on how much money people can claim in lawsuits.
“I’m not sure trading one injustice for another is the right way to go,” Book said.
She has tried to get rid of this law before with her own bills, but they were never discussed. Her amendment was quickly shot down. Other insiders called Yarborough’s amended bill a fair compromise, citing, without evidence, how caps help bring balance to medical malpractice claims.
Attorney Andy Bolin represents the medical industry and spoke on behalf of the Florida Justice Reform, a lobbying group that supports tort reform.
“If we’re to expand claimants, then there must be a counterbalance,” he said.
Cindy Jenkins, whose 25-year-old daughter Taylor was unmarried and had no children when she died in a hospital after Jenkins said she had a brain bleed that went untreated for hours after she was rear-ended at a traffic light, believes cap would just be another slap in the face since attorneys are unlikely to take a case that would yield such a low payout.
“For some reason, the goal of our legislators and the lobbyists who protect the hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies is they don’t want us to have justice administered fairly and impartially,” she said. “You cannot imagine the pain we suffer every day,” said Belynda Warren, who lost her mother to medical negligence.
A couple came forward with their 13-month-old daughter during the meeting. They wanted to show the lawmakers how their baby, who was born with two healthy hands, is now losing all her fingers on one hand. This happened because her blood flow was cut off while receiving medical treatment for something else.
Lawsuit limits might be a problem and go against Florida’s Supreme Court rules
People against the idea of setting limits on lawsuit money talked about two cases where such limits were used and later found to be against Florida’s Supreme Court rules. Yarborough, who made changes to the bill, believes his version is different and would survive any legal challenges.
Even though many families strongly disagreed, the lawmakers decided to continue with Yarborough’s bill. However, they recognized that it might still need some changes, considering the serious consequences and people involved.
“We need to find a balance with this. I believe there is an openness to all sides, and I am open to ideas,” Yarborough said.
This is just a starting point. There are also two other similar bills in the House and Senate, but they haven’t been scheduled for discussion yet.