BRANDON, Fla. (WFLA) – Eliminating a clause in the state’s wrongful death law that potentially impacts millions of Florida residents would open a “Pandora’s box” of litigation, according to the lawmaker who tabled the legislation.
But Florida Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, said he believes changes are needed in the Florida Wrongful Death Act.
The law restricts anyone 25 years or older from suing for financial damages for medical malpractice involving a widowed or divorced parent. The law also restricts parents from suing in cases involving the death of a child who was 25 or older.
This session, the bill allowing adult children to sue died in the House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee while the one that would allow parents of adult children to sue was passed easily by the House.
As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Burgess did not allow the legislation to make it onto the chamber floor for a vote.
“That legislation would have absolutely opened up a potential ‘Pandora’s box’ to litigation,” Burgess said.
Burgess and others claim allowing non-economic damages will potentially lead to higher medical malpractice insurance for Florida doctors, who already pay close to the highest rates in the country.
The call for change comes from people like Sabrina Davis. Her father Keith Davis was 62 when he was admitted in 2020 to Brandon Regional with a swollen leg.
“It still hurts really bad,” he told his only child in a video from the hospital.
Three days later, Davis was dead and his daughter was stumped when she could not get the answers she wanted from the hospital.
“They said ‘we can’t answer you. You need a lawyer.'” Davis recalled. “And no lawyer will take my case because of this Florida statute. So I’m stuck not knowing what really happened.”
Some answers came after her father’s doctor Rathinam Krishnamoorthy was investigated by the Florida Department of Health. The state found there was probable cause Krishnamoorthy broke the law by “committing medical malpractice.”
Krishnamoorthy said he did not want to comment on the Davis case.
Brandon Regional spokesperson Brandi Posner would not comment on the specifics of Davis’ death.
“We are committed to providing high quality care to our patients and rely on physicians to make medical decisions based on their expertise and each patient’s unique health care needs,” Posner said.
Census data indicates about 15 million Florida residents are 25 or older, but there is no tabulation for how many medical malpractice lawsuits have been foiled since the Wrongful Death Act was passed in 1990. That legislation was driven by skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs and an exodus of doctors from the state.
The number of doctors working in Florida is up by nearly 27 percent since 2010, according to Florida’s 2020 Physician Workforce report. Data also indicates malpractice insurance costs in Florida are still among the highest in the country.
Burgess said he believes the proposed law would’ve driven those costs even higher, but he empathizes with Davis and others who are frustrated by the law.
“My heart goes out to Sabrina, and anyone who goes through this,” Burgess said. “But in a 60-day session there was not enough time. The legislation was not ready.”
Burgess said he expects the laws to get another look next year.
“There’s always a shot,” Burgess said.
For Davis, the two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death claims runs out on this year. But she said she will continue fighting for change, even if it will not help her get answers about her father’s death.
“It’s not about money,” Davis said. “They won’t tell me anything about the last few minutes of my father’s life. I am not giving up on this.”
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