Florida lawmaker on wrongful death reform: ‘Doctors who want to be protected need to leave the state’

8 On Your Side

BRANDON, Fla. (WFLA) – Not even a deadly 9-inch long blood clot that was allegedly missed by Brandon Regional Hospital staff members can get claims about Keith Davis’ death into a courtroom.

While the shock was still raw for Sabrina Davis, she discovered a legal loophole stood between her and seeking “accountability” in the death of her father. It’s known as the Florida Wrongful Death Act, a statute put on the books about a decade ago to limit who can collect damages.

Children who are 25 years old or older are not eligible to collect in wrongful death claims involving a widowed parent, and parents face the same prohibition in the death of adult children.

“The marital status and the age of someone’s child should not determine if someone is going to be held accountable when they’re at fault for medical negligence,” Davis said. “This makes no sense and just protects bad doctors.”

The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) found “no documentation that the [Brandon Regional Hospital] policy was followed for risk assessment” of blood clots in Davis’s case. The AHCA report also stated there was a lack of documentation of treatment “to prevent complications.”

An unannounced visit to the hospital about six weeks after Davis’s death “found that rules and laws were violated” at that time. Brandon Regional received a “notice of deficiencies” and was required to correct the issues, according to a letter to Davis from AHCA.

“We begged them to do an ultrasound and they didn’t listen,” Davis said. “When he needed help, they failed him.”

Brandon Regional spokesperson Brandi Ponsler said in an email “the death of a loved one is always very difficult,” and that the hospital relies on physicians to make decisions “on each patient’s unique healthcare needs.”

After hearing from Davis, Representative Yvonne Hayes Hinson, of Gainesville, sponsored a bill that would strike the exclusion for adult children to file wrongful death claims involving their parents.

Another set of Senate and House bills would eliminate the clause for parents of adult children. Last year the measure that would impact parents was certified by a 99-16 House vote, but the Senate version never made it out of the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Zephyrhills Republican Rep. Danny Burgess.

Burgess has not responded to questions about the bills’ chances this session.

The big pushback so far is from lobbyists who claim malpractice insurance costs would rise in a state that already has high rates.

Hinson has been blunt toward opponents.

“Doctors who want to be protected from accountability need to leave the state of Florida,” Hinson said. “We need doctors who are capable, competent.”

Hinson said without changes, the claims of many malpractice victims will continue to be silenced.

“There are more cases like this than we realize. This has impacted a lot of families,” Hinson said. “Nobody to stick up for them. Nobody to hold them accountable for your life.”

Hinson is confident her bill has bi-partisan support.

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