It was touted as a measure to “make Florida more attractive” to those seeking to invest in the nursing home industry here in the Sunshine State.
Nevermind the fact that our elder population is soaring (with people over 60 comprising 23 percent of our 19 million population), prompting the need for advanced elder care to spike as well. With S.B. 670, investors mulling a good place to put their money can rest easy knowing if they put it in one of the state’s nursing home facilities, they will be shielded from liability. Of course, protected alongside them could be owners and others who have a role in the day-to-day operations of negligent facilities.
Broward County nursing home abuse lawyers know that in addition to narrowing the defendant list in Florida nursing home abuse cases, the measure also limits the ability of plaintiffs to seek punitive damages against nursing homes.
If you wonder who your elected lawmakers are working for, you can rest assured it’s not you.
Supporters of this measure seem to think this all made good business sense. Now, they say, financial firms and investors will be less wary of investing in a field of care that is seen as highly litigious.
But this reasoning is flawed for several reasons. The biggest problem with this measure is that it does nothing to address the reason why there are so many lawsuits against nursing homes. That reason, of course, is that they provide substandard care.
By passing this measure, Florida lawmakers have not only failed to further protect our most vulnerable citizens from abuse, neglect and negligence, but have instead made it easier for facilities that perpetuate this activity to escape unpunished.
Additionally, when there reduced accountability for wrongdoing, there is less incentive to initiate improvement.
Pouring money into the nursing home industry won’t do anything but line executive pockets unless there are firm requirements about minimum staffing levels and accountability for facilities that fail to properly care for patients. But whatever progress was made on these fronts has been continually eroded and chipped away at over the last two decades.
S.B. 670 is the cake-topper.
With regard to punitive damages in nursing home abuse cases, it requires plaintiffs to show upfront – before trial – that there is reasonable basis for recovery of such damages. A judge makes this decision before hearing the full weight of the testimony and evidence during the trial.
The law also limits causes of action in negligence cases to licensees, management or consulting firms, managing employees and direct caregiver employees or contractors.
There are no doubt many facilities throughout the state that provide excellent care to seniors, and we doubt that this legislation would have a great deal of impact on those locations. However, as Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care, pointed out, this lifting of liability may result in facilities already offering care considered borderline or negligent getting worse.
This has been a battle waged over the course of three legislative sessions. The one element of this measure that sweetened the pot for groups like the AARP of Florida, which endorsed the measure, was that it allowed relatives to obtain documentation on their relative’s behalf without going through the formal process of establishing an estate.
This little bit of consolation was hardly worth it for what has been lost to those most vulnerable.
While nursing home litigation may be getting tougher in Florida, cases can still be won when plaintiffs seek attorneys with experience and commitment to results.
Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Scott signs 94 bills into law, including measures restricting abortion, charities, June 13, 2014, By Michael Van Sickler, Tampa Bay Times
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