Florida’s ‘Free Kill’ Law

Written and edited by our team of expert legal content writers and reviewed and approved by Daniel Harwin

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In most states, the surviving relatives of a person killed by medical malpractice can file a wrongful death lawsuit and seek the compensation they deserve. But, a Florida measure, called the  “free kill law” by detractors, specifically blocks adult children who lose their parents and parents who lose their adult children to medical malpractice from pursuing claims and holding incompetent doctors and medical providers responsible. If your family has been affected by medical malpractice, contact Freedland Harwin Valori Gander today to learn more about how we can put our experience to work for you.

Key Takeaways

  • Florida’s “free kill” law severely limits wrongful death claims over medical malpractice by parents for the death of an adult child (25 years or older) and by adult children for the death of a parent.
  • Critics argue that the law does not reduce insurance rates and unfairly limits the ability of family members to hold incompetent physicians responsible.
  • There are ongoing legislative efforts to repeal Florida’s “free kill” law.

Florida’s “free kill law,” as critics call it, prevents adult children and parents of adult children (25 and older) from pursuing certain damages for the wrongful deaths of their loved ones from medical malpractice. Despite ongoing attempts to reform this statute, Florida effectively denies certain family members the right to seek accountability and compensation for deadly medical malpractice. 

The accomplished South Florida medical malpractice attorneys at Freedland Harwin Valori Gander have recovered over $2.6 billion for our deserving clients. If a loved one has died from medical malpractice in Florida, FHVG can determine your legal options and pursue the justice and compensation you deserve.

What is Florida's ‘Free Kill’ Law?

In many states, when a person dies as a result of medical malpractice, the estate’s personal representative can file a wrongful death suit on behalf of their surviving family members and can recover damages from hospitals and medical providers. 

However,  Florida severely restricts the rights of certain family members to seek compensation. Subsection 8 of the Florida Wrongful Death Act—dubbed the “free kill law” by critics—specifically blocks adult children from recovering compensation for emotional damages related to the death of their loved one. These include lost parental companionship, instruction, guidance, and mental pain and suffering for adult children or mental pain and suffering for parents of adult children. Florida law specifically blocks adult children aged 25 or older from recovering emotional and psychological damages in a wrongful death or medical malpractice suit on behalf of a deceased parent. For example, an adult child of a parent who died from medical malpractice would not be eligible to sue the hospital for pain and suffering. Only the individual’s spouse or children under 25 can recover damages in Florida. 

The law also restricts the parents of adult children killed by medical malpractice from pursuing compensation as well. Thus, if an individual 25 or older dies from medical malpractice, their parents are not eligible to recover damages for their pain and suffering.

Florida is the only state that prevents certain traditional wrongful death beneficiaries from recovering these damages for medical negligence that kills a loved one.

In practice, Florida’s “free kill law” makes it less viable for adult children and parents of adult children individuals to obtain justice for the death of their loved one by blocking them from recovering pain, suffering, and emotional damages. Because of the limit on recoverable damages, the law dramatically reduces the likelihood that survivors will pursue a malpractice lawsuit. 

While adult children can seek compensation for funeral costs, these lawsuits are often too costly to be worth it. This law essentially allows a  negligent medical provider who causes someone’s death to escape accountability for their failure.

Attempts to Reform Florida's ‘Free Kill Law’

Florida lawmakers have made some attempts to reform the Florida survival statute. In 2022, S.B. 560 was introduced in the Florida Senate. This bill aimed to remove the clause prohibiting adult children of victims of medical malpractice from recovering most damages for wrongful death. 

S.B. 262—also introduced in early 2022 by the same author—would have repealed the prohibition on parents of adult children seeking compensation for pain and suffering. 

Both bills ultimately died in the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2022. The legislators opposing these reforms cited concerns over a potential increase in malpractice costs and the possibility that the reforms would deter medical professionals from practicing in Florida.

Impact of Florida's ‘Free Kill Law’ on Families

By blocking adult children and parents of adult children from pursuing emotional damages in a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit, Florida’s “free kill law” denies adult children and parents justice and full compensation for the death of their loved ones. The inability to sue for emotional damages provides little incentive to pursue legal remedies, thus denying closure and causing further pain and suffering. It also allows incompetent medical providers to continue to harm victims without consequence.

Criticisms and Controversies

Florida implemented the “free kill law” in 1990 to combat the rising costs of medical malpractice suits against medical professionals. At the time, the increased price of medical malpractice insurance premiums allegedly resulted from malpractice lawsuits. The “free kill law” aimed to ease these increased costs. However, despite the law, medical malpractice coverage premiums in Florida have not improved.    

Supporters of the “free kill law” believe it is useful in persuading medical professionals to continue practicing in Florida. Since the law prevents a large proportion of individuals from pursuing wrongful death damages, health care providers are at less risk of facing legal or financial accountability for malpractice. According to Doug Murphy, the president of the Florida Medical Association, “Lawsuits do not hold physicians accountable. The Board of Medicine does.” 

Advocates for repealing the law argue that these restrictions allow medical providers to avoid accountability for medical malpractice. This impunity for medical professionals is why opponents have dubbed the law the “free kill law.” Additionally, the law prevents families from receiving compensation and justice after the death of their loved one. It can also be argued that financial responsibility for medical incompetence brings about the most effective change.  And, there is a moral truth in holding one responsible for their mistakes.

The Future Outlook for Florida's ‘Free Kill Law’

While Florida’s “free kill law” is still in full effect, there is an ongoing legislative attempt to reform the law in the Florida House of Representatives. H.B. 77 seeks to remove the prohibition on parents of adult children recovering damages for medical negligence. As of early 2024, H.B. 77 continues to make its way through the legislative process. 

Advocates and lawmakers continue to fight for reform. These advocates still face resistance from legislators who seek to protect the interests of medical professionals. However, family members affected by the law are persistent in speaking out about their right to seek justice, accountability, and compensation after their loved one’s wrongful death.

Contact an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney

The “free kill law” in Florida prevents adult children and parents of adult children from seeking compensation for emotional damages after medical malpractice. This statute prevents many families from accessing compensation for pain and suffering incurred after their loved one’s death. However, you should always seek advice from a competent attorney to determine whether the “free kill law” might or might not apply to your case. We have recovered compensation for clients who thought the “free kill law” applied to them, when it did not. 

If  Florida’s “free kill law”  has impacted your family, you are not alone. FHVG understands the pain of families affected by medical malpractice, and we have a proven track record as a trusted partner in navigating this journey. Our team of wrongful death attorneys is well-equipped to offer compassionate guidance and support to your family during this difficult time. 

FHVG is dedicated to seeking justice for victims of medical malpractice and their families. Let the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at FHVG put our 20+ years of experience to work for you. Call us at (954) 467-6400 or fill out a form online to schedule a free consultation anytime, anywhere.

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