Proposed changes to Florida medical negligence law draws ire from families

Lawmakers in Tallahassee are looking at repealing a law delineating who can sue for pain and suffering when a loved one is killed due to medical negligence and how much the court can award in such cases.

The law is known by critics as “free kill.”

Current law prohibits the parents of an unmarried adult child and 25 or older from suing for pain suffering if their child is killed due to medical malpractice. It also prohibits an adult child 25 and older from seeking such damages if their parent is unmarried and dies due to medical negligence.

Cindy Jenkins, who lives in St. Johns County, says her the law effectively prevented her from filing a lawsuit when her 25-year-old daughter died in an Orlando hospital last year.

“There’s no words to describe the compounding of the grief when you feel like people literally got away with murder,” Cindy Jenkins said.

Taylor Jenkins was the oldest of Jenkins’ two daughters. She was working as a flight attendant living and living in Orlando when was hurt in March.

“She met the love of her life. So really, they were planning their entire future together. And we’re going to eventually get married, have a family, all that was on the horizon,” Jenkins said.

The, she said the crash happened.

According to Jenkins, her daughter was sitting at a red light in Orlando when she was rear-ended. She was knocked unconscious and rushed to a trauma center.

Jenkins said the hospital left Taylor bleeding out internally for hours after they knew of the problem.

“I couldn’t believe the reckless negligence involved,” Jenkins said.

An autopsy report she provided showed Taylor’s cause of death was a laceration in a pelvic artery.

Jenkins said she reached out to attorneys about filing a lawsuit.

“I was asked three questions. ‘Well, how old was your daughter Taylor?’ And I said she had just turned 25 years old. ‘Okay, was she married?’ No, she wasn’t married yet. ‘Did she have children under 25?’ No. And that’s when they said because of Florida State statute 768.21(8), we cannot help you. We can’t take your case,” Jenkins recalled.

That statute in the Florida law known by critics like Jenkins as “free kill.”

“[The attorneys] basically say…without being able to go after economic damages, we would lose money or break even if we tried to help you,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins has been on a mission to get that law repealed, and now state legislators have proposed a bill to do just that. The bill also includes a provision that would cap damages for pain and suffering due to medical negligence at $500,000 for everyone, regardless of their age or marital status.

Michael Beacham, who lives in Windemere, Florida, said going forward, that cap would apply to situations like the one his family has been through.

Beachem said his 13-month-old daughter Mattie was born with two healthy hands, but, she was in the hospital for something unrelated when she was hurt due to what the family says was medical negligence.

“The circulation got cut off to her hand…now she has one finger left to lose,” Beacham said.

He said he’s speaking out against the cap on pain and suffering damages for other families who may face cases like this in the future.

“You want to solve medical malpractice rates? Find a way to practice better medicine, safer medicine,” he said.

Proponents of the bill say the $500,000 cap would balance out the high costs of medical malpractice lawsuits.

Mary Mayhew, who is the president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, told News4JAX the caps will have a positive impact on Florida’s healthcare system.

“We think putting the caps back in place will address so many issues in our health care delivery system in a positive way…improving the affordability of healthcare, reducing the practice of defensive medicine, reducing the cost of medical malpractice premiums, and helping us to recruit more physicians to our state,” Mayhew said.

Jenkins told News4JAX she disagrees with the proposed $500,000 cap.

“I don’t think it’s a compromise,” she said. “I would really refer to it as trading off one horrific injustice for an even more horrific injustice.”

The bill is still making its way through committees in the Florida Legislature.

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