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Florida Supreme Court Affirms Reversal of $900M Nursing Home Abuse Verdict

A Florida man’s widow received a $900 million judgment against a nursing home after neglect caused her late husband to suffer painful bed sores and, eventually, a below-the-knee amputation.

However, that verdict was reversed by Florida’s First District Court of Appeals, a decision recently upheld by the Florida Supreme Court without extensive comment.

Nursing home abuse attorneys in West Palm Beach understand the case has been remanded for another trial, and it’s unclear how the ruling may affect future cases. The reversal was predicated on the fact that the trial court did not hear at all from the defense, effectively denying the defendant due process.

The original verdict marked the third judgment since 2010 against this particular defendant that was over $100 million. One of the other cases involved a a woman in a wheelchair who died after suffering a fall.

In the Webb case, the plaintiff asserted that while her husband was a patient at the Gainesville facility, nursing home staffer’s actions and inaction caused him to suffer severe injury requiring multiple surgeries and an amputation of his leg.

While litigation was pending, a Maryland court appointed a receiver to handle all the defendant’s assets, following the defendant’s sale of interests and liabilities. The court in Maryland then set a claims bar date, at which time all creditors of the estate had to file a notice of claim against that estate. When attorneys for Webb failed to respond, the Maryland court determined there was no longer a need to defend the lawsuit, and discharged the company’s counsel.

With no attorney representation, the court later granted a default judgment on all three of plaintiff’s claims, including exploitation, negligence and punitive damages. Subsequently, a trial was held on the issue of amount of compensatory and punitive damages.

On the morning of that trial, the defendants filed a motion requesting that the court vacate the default judgments, continue the trial and grant permission for a Maryland-based attorney to appear on their behalf, despite the fact that she was not licensed to practice in Florida. The court denied these requests, saying that to file such motions at the last minute was “frankly unacceptable,” and the court refused to allow that attorney to appear on behalf of the defense.

When the attorney attempted to provide the court with more information, the court refused to hear any more from her.

The trial continued over the course of the next three days with no defense counsel present. The jury returned a $900 million verdict – $100 million for compensatory damages, $100 million for negligence and $700 million in punitive damages.

In its review of the case, the appellate court ruled the trial court had abused its discretion in refusing to grant the pro hac vice request by the defense that would allow the out-of-state attorney to represent it. Rather than rely on a sound legal argument upon which to base the denial, the trial court had simply reasoned the request “unacceptable.”

The plaintiff argued the reason the motion was denied was not because the defense had waited so long to file it, but rather because it was an obvious attempt to delay a trial that had been long-scheduled. The appellate court rejected this claim.

The case was reversed and remanded. The plaintiff appealed the ruling, but the state supreme court upheld it.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Trans Health Management v. Webb, Dec. 10, 2013, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:
Nursing Home Wrongful Death Lawsuit Alleges Failure to Act Quickly, May 15, 2014, West Palm Beach Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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