Families fight to change Florida's 'free kill' law

Posted at 5:02 PM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 17:02:56-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Chances are, you or someone you know is a so-called "free kill" in the state of Florida. Someone not married, with no kids, and older than 25.

If you fit that description and die as a result of medical negligence, your loved ones are not able to sue for grief, pain, or suffering.

At Tradition Hospital in 2019, Marcia Scheppler said her 29-year-old son Jo Jo with down syndrome and autism was having a reaction to medication.

Terrified of hospitals, she needed help getting him inside but said surveillance shows medical staff wouldn’t admit him or help bring him in.

The delay in treatment, Scheppler said, led to his untimely death. Scheppler wanted to sue for medical negligence, but learned because of who Jo Jo was, she couldn’t sue for more than the cost of a funeral.

"It's just, it’s a terrible law," Scheppler said.

Jo Jo is someone Scheppler said would be considered a so-called "free kill" under a state law. He wasn’t married, had no minor children, and was older than 25, so Scheppler can’t sue for grief, pain, or suffering.

In Jo Jo’s case, Scheppler feels the law is discriminatory.

"Because they can never achieve what the law states they need to do, which is to marry or have minor children," Scheppler said.

"He was ruled by a Florida judge that he couldn’t do it. Then in a Catch-22, they say that’s what he has to do to be covered for medical negligence," said Stacy Waner.

Waner said her brother was also a so-called "free kill," dying in a Panhandle hospital when he was only admitted with a broken leg, but said proper protocol wasn’t followed.

The marine veteran was also was older than 25, had no kids and no wife.

"We can’t get justice or hold the people who killed him accountable. But we might be able to save somebody else," Waner said.

The law was passed more than 30 years ago with the idea of preventing frivolous lawsuits and attracting medical professionals to the state with the hope of lower malpractice insurance costs.

"The medical lobbyists, insurance companies are all speaking out against the bill," Waner said.

But Waner says frivolous lawsuits aren’t likely since they’re costly to bring in the first place. And insurance rates have gone up even with the law because of the ebbs and flows of the economy.

Last session, the bill made it all the way through the House but died in the Senate.

This session was the first time the bill was scheduled to be heard by a Senate committee. But the Senate committee this week decided not to hear the bill.

"I don’t understand how the politicians who are supposed to be for the constituents in the state cannot hear this bill when it talks about the lives that are affected by medical negligence," Waner said.

But Waner and Scheppler are prepared to keep fighting for a repeal each session. To see the part of the law they are trying to repeal, click here.

"I'll keep fighting for the rest of my life so somebody else doesn’t have to go through this," Scheppler said.