Despite potential rate increases, Florida’s House passes HB 651.
The Florida House has passed HB 651 (18-0), allowing parents to file negligence claims if their adult children die from medical malpractice. The legislation passed despite the fact that medical providers and insurers warned it could increase rates throughout the state.
Rep. Spencer Roach (R-North Ft. Myers), who brought the bill, said it would address the “Dr. Kevorkian-like situation where an unmarried, childless adult could sue for injuries from malpractice unless that person dies, and then there is no cause for action.” Roach added, “The living can sue, the dead cannot. This is why the term ‘free kill’ was coined.”
He explained that, in 1990, the Legislature specifically allowed parents and adult children of adults who died from negligence (who were unmarried and without minor children) to file for noneconomic damages. However, this was limited by a clause stating that, in cases of malpractice, a child 25 or older could not sue over the death of a parent and vice versa. Roach said in introducing HB 651, “Florida is the only state that does not allow this type of recovery.”
At a hearing, parents who lost their adult children offered their testimonies. Marcia Scheppler said her 29-year-old son with Downs Syndrome, JoJo, was choking, and an emergency room denied him care. She took him to another facility where he died from septic shock. A Medicare investigation determined the delay contributed to his death.
“Because under the Florida free-kill law, there’s no justice for egregious medical neglect and malpractice for people like JoJo,” Scheppler said. “Holding healthcare workers – and I am one myself – to a higher standard when treating ‘JoJos’ is the right thing to do because these are our most vulnerable citizens.”
Archibald Black lost his 33-year-old son due to a medical procedure that failed. He explained, “Whenever a man or woman’s negligence causes a loss of life, there must be a law in every state that holds them accountable, instead of law that tells hospitals and doctors they don’t have to worry about the death of patient caused by their malpractice or negligence, because the state has their back.”
George Feijoo, representing the Florida Insurance Council, countered their arguments, saying that medical malpractice insurance carriers are already losing money in the state, and adding, “Rates were going up before COVID-19 and this legislation will guarantee higher rates. It’s in the interest of the general population of the state of Florida not to pass the bill. I believe in these numbers and these facts.”
Mark Delegal, representing companies that insure doctors and some hospitals, agreed, saying some physicians pay “several times the insurance premiums as those in other states,” and adding, “The balance you’re going to have to decide today is can we compensate every single person in every single circumstance who has sadness. There’s been an assertion here this won’t cause rates to increase. No one has presented data on that.”
Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) during debate said it’s not about rate increases – it’s about protecting the public. He said, “What we’re really talking about is accountability. In every profession there has to be accountability. A standard of care should be expected from people in the medical profession, or is there a carve out that allows people to walk away because they know there is no accountability?”