Florida’s controversial “Free Kill” law, a unique piece of legislation that has been part of the state’s legal landscape since 1990, is now facing increasing scrutiny and opposition. As the only state in the nation with such a law, Florida stands at a crossroads, with the growing momentum for reform aimed at protecting families rather than insulating doctors and insurance companies from liability.
“Free Kill” Law Background
Enacted to keep medical malpractice premiums low and prevent doctors from leaving the state, the “Free Kill” law stipulates that if a person who is unmarried and does not have children under the age of 25 dies due to medical negligence, their family cannot seek wrongful death claims. As GOLDLAW’s Director of Litigation Spencer Kuvin puts it, “The legislature determined if someone passed away and they did not have a spouse or child under the age of 25, that essentially no one can recover if – even if there is negligence.”
The Case for Change
The “Free Kill” law has long been criticized for its unfairness, particularly towards the elderly and single adults. Advocates for change argue that it discriminates against certain demographics and fails to hold medical professionals accountable in cases of clear negligence. The push for reform transcends political divisions, focusing on fundamental fairness and the protection of all Floridians, irrespective of their marital or parental status.
Comparative Malpractice Insurance Rates
Florida’s position in the national landscape is also noteworthy. The state’s malpractice insurance rates are among the highest in the country, ranking at #4, trailing only New York, California, and Pennsylvania. Rates are generally 20-50% higher than all other states. Yet, despite the high premiums, the “Free Kill” law limits accountability in cases of medical negligence.
Impact on Families
The law’s consequences are most acutely felt by families who have lost loved ones under circumstances where medical malpractice is suspected. A prominent example is the case behind the proposed
Keith Davis Family Protection Act. Keith Davis, a 62-year-old Navy veteran died in 2020 from a pulmonary embolism caused by a 9-inch blood clot in his leg, after his doctor failed to address his history of clots. Although medical boards concluded that the doctor was “probably” negligent, Davis’ adult children were prevented from suing due to the existing law. What penalties did the doctor suffer? Only a $7500 fine and being required to take continuing education courses.
Proposed Bills to Change the “Free Kill” Law
Many Florida politicians are in agreement that medical malpractice claims are already difficult to bring forward in Florida. State Representative Mike Beltran (R-Apollo Beach), a graduate of Harvard Law School, said, “It’s extremely hard to bring medical practice claims in Florida…There are areas of litigation where there may have been abuses or crises, or where lawsuits are contributing to excessive insurance premiums. But I don’t think medical malpractice is one of them.” Four proposed bills to change the law are currently headed to the Florida legislature later in January 2024:
- HB-129, knowns as The Keith Davis Protection Act.
- HB-77, which removes the provision blocking parents of adult children from recovering certain damages from medical malpractice suits.
- SB-310, Senate companion of HB-77, also allowing parents of adult children to pursue certain damages from medical malpractice wrongful death.
- SB-248, which would follow HB-128 in repealing age and marital status requirements.
Experts and advocates argue that the law is not just a matter of legal reform, but of moral and ethical importance. “I hope this will eventually get overturned in the legislature,” said GOLDLAW’s Spencer Kuvin. “This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is a fairness issue. And frankly, it’s to protect the elderly in the state of Florida.
Florida’s “Free Kill” law is an outlier in American legal practice, offering a stark example of how legal decisions can sometimes prioritize institutional interests over individual rights and protections. As Florida moves towards potentially amending this law. The focus remains firmly on the principles of fairness, accountability, and the rights of families to seek compensation for the wrongful death of their loved ones. The path forward for supporters is clear: reforming the existing law not only aligns with legal and ethical standards, but also reaffirms Florida’s commitment to protecting all citizens.