In February 2016, Javier Roldan entered the Pinellas County Hospital with a broken leg. Six days later, he experienced seizures and convulsions and died. Javier's mother, Jeanette Gonzalez, is now challenging a Florida law that prohibits parents from bringing wrongful death claims on behalf of children who are over the age of 25, single, and without dependents.
Ms. Gonzales claims that she voiced concern several times to the physicians treating her son about what she perceived as warning signs that something was amiss. She felt that doctors brushed her off and dismissed her concerns. She is now seeking to bring a wrongful death claim against medical staff at Pinellas County Hospital, but is prevented from doing so because her son was 33 at the time of his death, single, and did not have children. As a parent, Ms. Gonzales is not granted standing to bring a claim under state law.
Nicolette Nicoletti, Ms. Gonzales' attorney, is filing complaints with the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Board of Medicine. However, Nicoletti claims that it is still extremely important to challenge the state law that robs parents of standing to bring claims on behalf of adult children: “Those complaints don't hold as much merit as having a malpractice lawsuit on your record to let the public know what's happened here, what this doctor has done in the past and the risk you take if you see this doctor.”
When we covered the surplus of the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund last week, we noted that many advocates in Wisconsin pointed to the fact that parents in that state are also unable to bring wrongful death claims on behalf of adult children as a reason why so many victims of malpractice in Wisconsin were going without compensation.
Recent census data has consistently demonstrated that more people in the United States are refraining from having children and getting married, in addition to the fact that many Americans are having children and getting married much later in life than in previous decades. Therefore, in states like Wisconsin and Florida, there is a significant (and growing) portion of the population with no legal representative empowered to pursue claims against medical staff if they lose their lives due to malpractice.
Jeanette Gonzalez hopes that her fight will help to preserve her son's legacy. Javier suffered from spina bifida and spent years advocating for those born with birth defects as a representative for the March of Dimes, even appearing at the Superbowl XXV half time show to help raise awareness. Ms. Gonzales isn't alone. Linda Porter, a mother from Spring Hill, Florida, has begun a petition on change.org asking that Florida lawmakers change the Wrongful Death Act to permit parents of adult children standing to bring claims. As of the time of this writing, the petition had 15,023 signatures.