PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — A Treasure Coast mother claims her son was denied emergency care at a hospital. It's a fight she's lost in the courts, but now Marcia Scheppler is battling in the Florida statehouse to change the law.
Scheppler said her 29-year-old son, Joseph, or "Jo Jo," was living in a group home in Port St. Lucie on Sept. 6, 2019. He had an allergic reaction to medication.
"He couldn't sit still. He couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. He was raising his hands up to try to help him breathe," Scheppler said. "I knew I had to get him to the emergency room right away and Cleveland Clinic at Tradition was the closest."
Surveillance video obtained by Scheppler shows, in the span of 30 minutes, she went into the hospital four times asking for help getting her son inside. It's something she said she could not do alone since he was too scared to go inside.
When a charge nurse eventually came outside, a state investigation found he refused to screen or stabilize Jo Jo.
"They gave me no options," Scheppler said. "They said they would not help me get Joseph inside, knowing I couldn't get Jo Jo inside myself. He refused to get a doctor."
Scheppler left 40 minutes after she first arrived. Her son's condition worsened by the time they traveled to a second hospital.
"He had aspirated into his lungs," she said. "He never recovered."
Joseph died nearly three weeks later.
A state investigation found Tradition Hospital, part of Cleveland Clinic, committed four violations of the federal EMTALA Act, or Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. EMTALA laws require hospitals to screen and stabilize patients who present within 250 yards of a hospital.
Scheppler filed a lawsuit in circuit court against Cleveland Clinic, Tradition Medical Center and the charge nurse, looking for damages of up to $10 million. She was represented by attorney Cassidy Loutos.
"I was horrified," Loutos said. "Nobody should have to beg to get treatment."
A judge dismissed the case, but Loutos is helping Scheppler appeal the ruling. They sued for more money than allowed by a state law some have nicknamed "Florida's Free Kill Law."
A spokesperson for Cleveland Clinic at Tradition said they are not commenting at this time on the investigation and ongoing litigation.
CHANGING THE LAW
The Florida Wrongful Death Act, or Florida Statute 768.21 states, in part, that if someone is not a spouse of someone who dies from medical negligence or their child under the age of 25, that person cannot sue for damages for mental pain and suffering, limiting them to seeking damages for the costs of medical bills and funeral costs.
"Ten thousand dollars here, $10,000 there, that doesn't make them sit up and pay attention," Scheppler said.
Loutos and Scheppler have been fighting to change the law in Tallahassee, supporting House Bill 651 and Senate Bill 1112 that would lift the limits for parents of adult children and allow parents of adult children to seek damages for mental pain and suffering.
"As parents, we are asking for the right to protect our adult children," Scheppler said.
Opponents of the bill have said they worry it would lead to an increase in "frivolous" lawsuits, increase malpractice insurance costs, and deter physicians from coming to Florida. One of those opponents, Andy Bolin, with the Florida Justice Reform Institute, spoke at the Judiciary Committee Hearing before representatives voted unanimously in support of moving the bill forward.
House Bill 651 will be heard by the Florida House of Representatives this week. Loutos and Scheppler are still working with other families impacted by the current limitations to gain more support in the Florida Senate, where they said the bill is struggling to gain the same support.
"This is like my last mommy act for him, to get this changed and make sure it doesn't happen again," Scheppler said.