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New Laws Would Make it Tougher to Sue for Nursing Home Abuse in Florida

A pair of bills – one in the Florida House and one in the Florida Senate – would make it more difficult for you to sue a nursing home that abuse or neglected your loved one, even in cases when that abuse led to serious injury or death.

Our Indian River County nursing home abuse lawyers are appalled that lawmakers would push to further strip the rights of those who have suffered so much already.

It’s not enough that not less than two years ago, our state leaders reduced nursing home staffing hour mandates, with direct nursing care requirements dipping from 3.9 hours weekly to 3.6 hours weekly (nursing assistant care hours dropped from 2.7 to 2.5 hours). At the time, nursing home unions warned that the erosion of this measure had the potential not only to result in higher turnover rates, but to endanger lives as well.

Of course, those original staffing mandates were the whole reason that the state agreed to cap liability damages for nursing homes back in 2001. Those mandates have been eroded, but the cap has remained in place. In other words, the nursing home got its cake, and ate it too.

Now, we have SB 1384 and HB 869.

SB 1384, introduced by Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), states that a claim for punitive damages in a nursing home litigation case could not be brought unless there was a showing of admissible evidence, proffered by the parties. It would require that a special hearing be held before trial during which time the judge would have to find “clear and convincing evidence” that a specific person or corporate defendant actively and knowingly participated in either intentional misconduct or engaged in conduct that constituted gross negligence, which in turn contributed to the loss, injury or damages suffered by the claimant.

Punitive damages, as you may know, are those damages that exceed simple compensation and are instead awarded to punish the defendant for its conduct.

The way the law is right now, plaintiffs need to produce the evidence before trial in a simple pre-trial hearing. However, plaintiffs aren’t required at that time to prove prior to trial that the evidence is admissible. Essentially, it creates a whole other barrier to compensation

The other measure, HB 869, is along those same lines. It specifies the conditions under which the nursing home resident (or relative) has cause of action against either the management company or licensee. It requires a basis for punitive damages be determined by a judge prior to trial.

Galvano was recently quoted as saying that the goal is to test the veracity of the claims before these claims go forward. He stressed the ability to seek punitive damages wouldn’t be taken away, though he fails to note it would be a lot more difficult to obtain. The fact that our Bradenton State Senator is unabashedly more concerned about the welfare of large nursing home corporations that he is about the care of the elderly residents of his district, should tell you all you need to know about his priorities.

It’s worth noting that these measures are staunchly opposed by the AARP and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, a spokeswoman for the latter saying, “Never in my life have I ever seen anything more offensive to old people than this.”

Essentially, these measures serve as a means to shield big corporations and abusive individuals from accountability when they have harmed an innocent and vulnerable patient. Both measures are alive and well, with the HB 869 now in the Health Innovation Subcommittee and SB 1384 now in the Health Policy Committee.

Our Indian River nursing home abuse attorneys urge everyone reading this to contact your senator or representative or those in the committee and subcommittees, and voice your clear opposition to these measures.

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

Additional Resources:
Nursing home bill proceeds, April 1, 2013, By James Call, The Florida Current

More Blog Entries:
Sebastian Nursing Home Negligence Sometimes Tied to Feeding Tubes, March 14, 2013, Indian River County Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers Blog

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