After years of quietly crushing Florida families struck by tragedy, a 33-year-old state law that prevents some families from suing a doctor or a hospital responsible for the death of an unmarried adult loved one is getting new scrutiny this session by lawmakers.
Last month, we exposed why critics have long fought to end what they describe as Florida's "free kill" law. The law prohibits any family member from suing if an unmarried parent or adult child dies as a result of medical negligence in Florida.
But a new bill filed in the Senate on Friday to end the law for some families is not only the third bill filed on the topic this fall, but it could be the most significant.
That's because HB 248 was filed by state Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville.
Killing portions of Florida's 'free kill' law won't help all families
Yarborough also chairs the Judiciary Committee, a powerful position in the state Legislature because, as chair, he can decide what bills are heard in his committee. Previous efforts to repeal this law have failed because the bill was never heard in the Senate.
Yarborough's bill calls to lift current restrictions on some families to sue, but only if state governing boards have already found a doctor or hospital at fault in a medical negligence case.
"This is just a start. This is just the beginning," Sabrina Davis said.
Her 62-year-old father died three years ago in a Hillsborough County hospital after a doctor failed to diagnose and treat a blood clot in his leg.
If HB 248 is approved this session, the bill could open the door to her seeking justice over her father's death.
While the state's medical board found her father's doctor at fault and even slapped him with a $7,500 fine, because of the state's law, Sabrina hasn't been allowed to take the case to court.
"I have always said ... a $7,500 fine was not enough for the doctor that did this to my father. With this bill, a $7,500 fine would not have been all he got," she said.
But other families impacted by the state’s so-called "free kill" law say this new bill does nothing but leave them shocked and angry.
Time for Florida's 'free kill' law to die, families say
"The larger intent of this bill is to make sure that it looks like they're doing something to take action to help," Cindy Jenkins said. "But the larger intent is the same thing, to protect the medical and insurance industry."
Jenkins' daughter, Taylor, was just 25 and engaged to be married when she died earlier this year at an Osceola County hospital after being rear-ended at a red light.
Doctors said Taylor died of a brain injury, but an independent autopsy found it was untreated internal bleeding that killed the young flight attendant.
The findings were enough to convince the county's medical examiner to change Taylor's official cause of death on her death certificate, but to date, the state's hospital association (AHCA) and Florida's Medical Board have yet to find probable cause of any wrongdoing over Taylor's death.
According to annual reports from Florida's Medical Quality Assurance Division, over the last three fiscal years, probable cause against a Florida medical doctor was only found in just about a quarter of cases.
"Passing legislation that does nothing other than protect the health insurance companies and in the rare instance that AHCA or the Florida Department of Health makes a guilty ruling giving a family the capacity to file a complaint, this is a step in the wrong direction," Jenkins said.