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Bill Would Allow More Surviving Family Members to Recover Damages in Medical Negligence Cases

Nov 27, 2023 By Jim Ash

Florida House members are renewing a bipartisan effort to eliminate a Florida law that prevents some surviving family members from recovering damages for medical negligence.

Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Zephyrhills, and Rep. Johanna Lopez, D-Orlando, are co-sponsoring HB 129, otherwise known as the “Keith Davis Family Protection Act.”

Bletran Rep. Mike Beltran

Florida law is unique in that it limits the awarding of punitive damages to a surviving spouse or minor children when a person 25 or older dies from medical negligence.

Lopez Rep. Johanna Lopez

“This law excluding a class of persons from the protections the rest of us enjoy, finds no analogue in the other 49 states,” Beltran, a Harvard Law graduate, said in a statement.

“Our Floridians deserve to have the same rights as others across the nation,” Lopez said. “The bill will allow the parents and descendants to be renumerated in case of medical malpractice that results in the death of loved one.”

Navy veteran Keith Davis was 62 and single when he died three years ago in a Tampa hospital from a misdiagnosed blood clot. His 33-year-old daughter, Sabrina, formed a coalition that has pushed for reforms for the past three years.

Sabrina Davis and other critics derisively refer to the restrictions as Florida’s “fee kill” law. Beltran insists that it creates a perverse incentive for physicians.

“Patients harmed by malpractice can sue, whereas physicians who kill patients covered by the [free kill] law enjoy immunity from suit,” he said.

Conservative groups, including the Florida Justice Reform Institute, oppose the reforms. The restrictions were put in place in the 1990s to protect physicians from rising malpractice rates.

Opponents note that the Legislature recently enacted sweeping civil litigation reforms to rein in the “billboard attorneys” they blame for skyrocketing insurance rates.

Beltran insists the restrictions unfairly discriminate and are no longer necessary after lawmakers decades ago “curbed abuse of the malpractice laws.”

“The law makes scant sense, is antiquated, solves no problem, and creates unfairness.”