It’s been called Florida’s ‘Free Kill’ law.
It’s the only one of its kind in the nation and it prevents the medical community from being held accountable for medical malpractice deaths involving single adult patients with no children under the age of 25.
34 years after the law’s passage, one advocate who is following her late-father’s advice to never give up, has helped generate some historic process in the fight to repeal Free Kill.
Sabrina Davis’ father, Keith Davis, was a Navy veteran.
He served on submarines, loved playing guitar and often had wise words of advice for his daughter.
“My dad raised me to speak up for what you believe in and not be silent,” said Sabrina in an interview with Action News Jax in early January.
In October of 2020, Sabrina came to learn what it means to truly put those words into practice.
That month, her father was taken to the ER after complaining of leg pain.
The 62-year-old had a history of blood clots.
A photo captured what his leg looked like upon entering the hospital: Red, swollen, hot to the touch… All classic signs of a clot.
“My dad and I continued to please ask for an ultrasound over and over and they refused,” said Sabrina.
Just two days after entering the hospital, Sabrina’s father sent her an ominous text.
“He said that he could be sitting there with a clot and the doctor doesn’t even care and three days later he was dead of a nine-inch clot,” said Sabrina.
After being notified of her father’s death, Sabrina asked the nurse to put the phone up to her dad’s ear.
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“I said, dad, if someone can be held accountable, I will make sure that they are,” said Sabrina.
Sabrina took her case to the Florida Department of Health.
Documentation shows her father’s death was deemed to have been the result of medical malpractice.
It wasn’t until she attempted to find an attorney to take her case to the courts that she found out about the law she would spend the next three years trying to repeal.
Florida’s so-called ‘Free Kill’ law, prohibits adult children over the age of 25 from suing for noneconomic damages on behalf of their single adult parent in cases of medical negligence resulting in death.
It works in reverse too, preventing parents from suing on behalf of single children over the age of 25.
Sabrina had just found out making good on her promise to her father would be an uphill battle.
“Taking away the rights of a certain class of people, in my opinion, it’s wrong,” said Sabrina.
With no option in the courts, she turned her eyes to the state legislature.
‘Free Kill’ has been on the books for 34 years and was initially passed to lower medical malpractice insurance rates, which at the time were reaching crisis levels.
Efforts to repeal it have gone as far as being passed off the House floor in recent years, but it’s never been brought up for a vote in the Senate.
At the time of our interview in early January, Sabrina was just gearing up for the start of the 2024 session.
She put together 160 folders – one for each Florida lawmaker – full of information about the five bills filed this year aimed at fully, or partially, repealing the Free Kill statute.
After attending opening day, where she spent hours meeting with lawmakers, Sabrina got some good news: The bill would be heard for the first time in a Senate committee.
“For 33 years they’ve just swept it under the rug and hoped no one would really notice, you know? And now that the truth is coming out, it’s being paid attention to,” said Sabrina.
That bill, filed by State Senator Clay Yarborough (R-Jacksonville) allowed for parents and adult children to sue, but only after getting a determination of malpractice from the state.
Just a day before the hearing however, an amendment was filed that threw the fate of the bill into limbo.
The amendment changed the bill to a full repeal, but with strings attached: Caps on noneconomic damages for all medical malpractice claims.
Those caps would limit rewards to a max of $150,000 to $750,000 depending on the details of the case.
“I knew we would need to find a way to thread the needle and strike a balance if we hoped to help impacted individuals,” said Yarborough in the bill’s first committee stop on January 22nd.
The amendment was adopted, much to the approval of those in the medical field, who up until this year had fought efforts to repeal the ‘Free Kill’ statute over concerns it would once again cause malpractice insurance rates to spike.
“There is a malpractice crisis. No matter how you look at it, Florida is up at the top in almost every statistical category,” said Dr. Charles Chase with the Florida Medical Association during public testimony.
But the amendment came to the dismay of medical malpractice victims, and the attorneys who fight for them in court.
“Disability. It’s impairment. It’s deformity. Those are the elements of damages that you will be voting to limit,” said Philip Gold, a medical malpractice attorney who came to testify on the bill.
“If this was your daughter, your son, your grandchild. Would half a million dollars suffice?” said Bobby Bowers, a Jacksonville resident who traveled to Tallahassee to testify on behalf of his daughter who was left severely disabled and wheelchair bound due to medical malpractice.
Sabrina waited for her turn to speak.
When her name was called, she was given just 30 seconds.
“Today I am asking for justice to be restored, and not justice to be reformed,” Sabrina told lawmakers.
Just few minutes later, and the bill was passed… Caps and all.
After the vote, Sabrina told us it’s her goal to get a clean repeal passed in the end.
“The caps were never part of my fight and I will never make the money be my fight,” said Sabrina.
Even if she succeeds, Sabrina will never see a dime for what happened to her father, as none of the bills would apply retroactively.
Still, as Sabrina has told us from the beginning, this fight isn’t about her.
“My son might be single with no kids at 25. So at this point, I’m fighting in honor of my dad, but I’m fighting for the future people,” said Sabrina.
Of the ‘Free Kill’ bills filed this year, two bear the name, “The Keith Davis Family Protection Act”.
Both are written as clean repeals.
Since that first hearing in late January, none of the five bills have been scheduled for any future hearings.
Senator Yarborough told Action News Jax negotiations between the chambers are ongoing, and Sabrina told us if that bill ends up in a form she’s comfortable with, she believes it will also end up being named in honor of her father.
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