Changes To Florida Wrongful Death Act Could Give Recourse To Parents Of Adult Children

In 2004, a 38-year-old man named Pete Thomas was admitted to a New Port Richey, Florida hospital for abdominal pain. Six weeks later he was dead, suffering cardiac and respiratory arrest after he was administered what his mother says was a lethal mix of medication. Twelve years have passed, and Thomas’s mother Linda Porter still does not have the answers she seeks. A subpoena–served as part of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a Florida attorney against the doctors and hospitals that treated Thomas–would offer more details into what went wrong.

But there will be no subpoena. There is no legal inquiry into Pete Thomas’s death, no lawsuit, no accountability. Linda Porter, Thomas’s mom, has no answers in her son’s case because the Florida’s wrongful death laws won’t allow for it.

There’s a loophole in the 786.16 Florida Statute, also known as the Florida Wrongful Death Act, that prevents the parents of an adult child (considered in Florida to be over the age of 25) from recovering damages for pain and suffering against a healthcare provider whose medical negligence caused their child’s death. In another cruel twist, adult children are also barred from recovering these damages when the negligence of health care providers caused the wrongful death of their parent. Because there are usually no economic damages in these cases involving adults, these limitations leave families with no remedy for negligent medical treatment of their family members.

The statute states that only survivors who are “partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services” can sue for wrongful death, which largely limits lawsuits to those filed by a spouse or minor children. That hasn’t stopped Porter, who filed formal complaints with the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. She’s also petitioning the legislature to change Florida law.

Thomas’s case is one of many. Every year in the US, more than 400,000 people die in hospitals because of “preventable harm,” according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Patient Safety, which includes physician error, medical malpractice, and hospital negligence. Says board-certified wrongful death attorney Jeff Badgley: “It is patently unfair that in Florida, parents of adult children have no recourse when it comes to the wrongful deaths of their loved ones. To a parent, losing an adult child is no less of a tragedy and the law should view it as such.”

If your family member has lost their life due to suspected negligence of a health care provider, call our office today at 407.781.0420 for questions regarding your medical negligence or wrongful death case. Medical malpractice attorney Jeff Badgley will meet with you for a free consultation to discuss your legal options.

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