Florida Mother Fights to Change Wrongful Death Rules

Linda Porter’s son, Pete Thomas, died 12 years ago in a New Port Richey hospital. Now Porter goes to rock concerts and imagines her long-haired guitarist son with her in the audience. This April, Pete would have been 50 years old.

In October 2014, the 38-year-old was admitted to the Morton Plant North Bay Hospital with abdominal pain. Less than 24 hours had passed before he went into respiratory arrest and was put on a ventilator. He died roughly six weeks later. Porter believes the hospital caused Pete’s death by over-medicating him.

They never figured out what was causing the pain because they “overdosed him” with five different medications, all of which cause respiratory depression. Porter questioned hospital employees, consulted an attorney, and sent letters to every Florida politician and state agency imaginable. But to no avail.

Porter wanted somebody to be held accountable for her son’s death, but Florida’s Wrongful Death Act does not allow the parents of adult children to sue for medical negligence on their behalf. Thomas died unmarried with no children.

Porter called the tragedy a “double whammy.” First, the horrible incident occurred, and then Porter learned she had no recourse and no voice to even admonish the hospital. So Porter began a petition on Change.org to “[a]llow parents to seek justice for their children’s wrongful deaths.” The start of the petition reads:

“Every year about this time my heart breaks. Next month will be the 11th anniversary of my son’s untimely death due to a doctor’s negligence. Even though it’s been more than a decade since he was taken away from me, the pain is still as fresh as ever.”

Porter wants to change the law to give parents of single adults the right to sue on behalf of their loved ones and ensure the wrongdoers’ negligence won’t happen again. To date, almost 15,000 people have signed in agreement.

Since Thomas died over 10 years ago, Porter knows she cannot sue the hospital now. But she still wants to hold the hospital accountable and force them to respond to deaths similar to to this, to prevent them from happening in the future. “I just don’t want to see it happen again to anyone else’s family,” she said.

Beth Hardy, a spokeswoman for the Morton Plant North Bay Hospital, said the hospital wants to hear when patients or their families have concerns. She stated that the hospital is “committed to excellence in patient care” and that means “being open to questions and taking them seriously.”

University of South Florida law professor Jay Wolfson said that parents of adult children have few options in situations like Porter’s. One alternative is to sue for fraud and abuse under the “Community Standard of Care Act.” They can also file an administrative claim with the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Porter, however, indicated that her attorneys told her that the case didn’t meet the criteria for filing a fraud and abuse claim. And while her administrative claim was investigated, she found the result unsatisfying.

Wolfson said that families like Porter’s have a high bar to meet. He said an estimated 100,000-300,000 people die in the U.S. from medical errors each year.

Porter’s Tampa attorney, Henry Valenzuela, said he couldn’t help her unless Florida’s Wrongful Death Act was rewritten regarding medical negligence. He says the law allows the parents of a deceased child to file a wrongful death lawsuit against any wrongdoer, except health care providers. This exception for health care providers does not make sense to Valenzuela, and in 30 years he has yet to hear a valid explanation for the discrepancy.

Valenzuela said that roughly six people like Porter come to him each year wishing to sue on a deceased loved one’s behalf. Sadly, he thinks it will take a terrible situation happening to the adult child of someone with political clout for the law to change. Neither he nor Porter wishes for such a situation.

Currently, Porter is making plans for Pete’s 50th birthday. In the past, she’s honored his birthday by getting commemorative tattoos on her wrists. She hopes to continue collecting signatures on her petition until it catches the right person’s attention.

If you have lost a family member due to another’s negligence, you should contact a dedicated personal injury attorney as soon as you are able. To discuss your right to recover damages with a hardworking South Florida personal injury lawyer, call the experienced advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website today.

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