Florida lawmakers are seeking to significantly curb plaintiffs’ rights to sue negligent nursing homes, recently advancing the SB 1384, despite the testimony of a woman whose elderly mother was brutally sexually assaulted in 2002.
Our North Lauderdale nursing home abuse lawyers recall this decade-old case, as it revealed significant flaws in the protections that many nursing homes had in place to halt patient-on-patient violence.
The woman’s mother was helpless in her room as an 83-year-old male patient wheeled himself into her room, blocked the door and proceeded to brutally sexually assault her. At no time did a staffer intervene.
As it turned out, that same man had multiple prior convictions for sexual assaults, including molestation of a child and sexual assault. That was back in the 1960s, and he spent less than four months in jail total for both offenses.
Still, the nursing home would have found those prior offenses had they screened for them. Families who trust the care of their loved ones to this facility should know whether convicted sex offenders are residing there.
Prior to his placement at the nursing home, a judge in Gainesville had determined he was a potential danger to himself and others – which is why he had been ordered to stay at the nursing home in the first place.
Police later arrested him for the assault, but a judge found him incompetent to stand trial and he was instead sent to a state hospital.
The victim died a short time later, though of unrelated causes. A jury later awarded her family $750,000 from the nursing home for its negligence, but her daughter says that amount was never paid.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Tom Lee, a supporter of SB 1384, said that while he sympathized with the situation, he doubted this measure would have done anything to have changed it.
He’s wrong, of course. Although the punitive damages were never paid, they would have been a lot harder to get in the first place had this bill been around at the time when this woman’s family took the nursing home to court.
Originally, the bill would have made it nearly impossible to sue the corporate parent of a nursing home for damages. Amid fierce opposition, that portion of the bill was eventually struck, a move the sponsor says was a begrudging compromise.
Now, SB 1384 deals almost exclusively with the issue of punitive damages, requiring that plaintiffs would have to undergo a pre-trial hearing before a judge to prove the validity of certain pieces of evidence before the claim could go forward.
As the bill’s supporters put it, it would require clear documentation of intentional wrong-doing or gross negligence, as opposed to merely he-said-she-said. Of course, this overlooks the fact that oftentimes, some of the most compelling testimony in nursing home abuse or negligence cases comes from witnesses – people who lived, worked and visited there.
As it already stands, a 2001 change in the the law requires that half of all nursing home-related punitive damages have to go into a state trust fund. Why are we depriving those who have been wronged of a chance to see justice served?
In effect, this measure creates a disincentive for plaintiffs to make a claim for punitive damages in the first place, and that of course appears to be the primary goal.
One has to wonder for whom these lawmakers are working in the first place?
Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Testimony about Jacksonville rape heard before Senate panel passes nursing home bill, April 1, 2013, By Matt Dixon, The Florida Times Union
More Blog Entries:
Negligent Nursing Homes Getting Billions from Taxpayers, March 28, 2013, North Lauderdale Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog