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Florida Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit Bill Fails Legislature

Senate Bill 1384, the measure that would have made it tougher for Floridians to sue nursing homes who had neglected and abused their elderly loved ones, has failed.
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Our Delray Beach nursing home abuse lawyers are happy to report that at least for now, the issue is dead.

The controversial measure would have made it more difficult for loved ones to hold negligent nursing homes responsible, even when their actions – or lack of action – led directly to serious injury or death.

SB 1384, which was introduced by Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), would have required claims for punitive damages to go through a special, rigorous proceedings. Punitive damages are those awarded to the plaintiff that are intended to punish the defendant for especially egregious errors, oversights or misdeeds. It exceeds simple compensation.

Rather than having that issue decided in court, by a jury, this bill would have required plaintiffs to get special approval from a judge PRIOR to the trial. The standard for this would have been that the plaintiff would have had to have proven “clear and convincing evidence” that the corporation or a certain person had knowingly and actively participated in misconduct that was intentional or conduct that amounted to gross negligence. If the judge denied the plaintiff, the claim could still move forward but the potential for monetary damages would be significantly diminished.

This bill was of course backed strongly by the nursing home industry lobbyists, but fiercely opposed by prior victims of abuse and advocates for older citizens, such as the AARP and the Florida Justice Association. Those within the nursing home industry said it was necessary to protect the industry from “predatory lawyers” for plaintiffs. That’s an unsurprising tactic and it’s nothing new. The reality, however, is that it’s already difficult to obtain punitive damages, especially in any significant sum. Making it any harder would have essentially taken away the nursing homes’ incentive to prevent abuse and neglect in the future.

Those who had experienced or had loved ones experience the abuse firsthand testified passionately before lawmakers not to pass the bill.

Still, it had advanced at a rather steady clip, all the way through the Health Policy Committee, though it eventually died on calendar May 3. Had it passed, it would have become effective July 1.

Companion House Bill 869 suffered the same fate, dying in the Health Innovation Subcommittee on May 3. Prior to that, it had survived both the Civil Justice Subcommittee and the Judiciary Committee.

While we are certainly thrilled that these measures sputtered out, we still have concern that they made it as far as they did. We hope this does not foreshadow difficult battles in future legislative sessions over the same issue.

Punitive damages exist in the first place because some conduct is so flagrantly atrocious or nefarious as to warrant special punishment. It’s a high standard to reach. Making it even harder would have only served to help those who hold the welfare of our elderly loved ones in the lowest regard.

Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Bill to limit punitive damage suits against nursing homes likely finished, May 1, 2013, By Rochelle Koff, Tampa Bay Times

More Blog Entries:
New Laws Would Make it Tougher to Sue for Nursing Home Abuse in Florida, April 7, 2013, Delray Beach Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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