Florida Lawmakers Move to Reduce Liability in Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits

Nurse Holding Elderly Patient's HandTallahassee, FL- When a family puts their loved one a nursing home the fear that person will be abused or neglected weighs heavily on their minds. If abuse or neglect should occur, the elderly and their families at least have a legal recourse and can seek compensation through the civil courts. But Florida legislators have introduced a law that would limit the liability of certain parties when a nursing home resident is harmed.

The legislation introduced Sen. John Thrasher and Rep. Matt Gaetz, would prevent “passive investors”—banks and equity firms, for example—from being sued if a patient is injured by a facility they have invested in, unless they have a an active role in how the facility is run.

The legislation would also make sure punitive damages are paid to the victim by revoking the operating license if a facility doesn’t pay the final judgment. It also gives families access to the relatives medical records.

Emmett Reed of the Florida Healthcare Association explained in an Op-ed appearing in the Daytona News-Journal, that the legislation is the best way to ensure investors continue to funnel money into Florida nursing homes and make certain facilities are prepared for the increase in residents as baby boomers age.

Reed says the legislation would save the industry hundreds of thousands of dollars and would still allow an abuse/neglect victim and their families to hold a facility accountable, they just won’t be able to sue an investor unless they have a direct involvement in a facility’s operation.

It sounds like reasonable legislation and has been approved by the AARP and trial lawyers, who have fought this legislation in the past, but there is one nursing home abuse attorney whose approach to abuse a neglect lawsuits served as inspiration for the legislation.

Attorney Jim Wilkes has sued nursing home investors, not just administrators or staff, for substandard care and won large settlements. Reed recently told the Associated Press “What this does is isolate one renegade law firm — Wilkes.”

Which would make one question whether lawmakers are too concerned about pleasing their donors—the Miami Herald reported that the nursing home industry donated $2.4 million to lawmakers this year alone—or are they really concerned about the quality of care nursing home residents receive?

Wilkes explained to the Miami Herald that the nursing home industry is so profitable that facilities changing ownership to shield their assets.

“They keep putting companies in bankruptcy and transferring assets, and we follow the assets and now the courts are able to go up the ladder,’’ said Wilkes.

Wilkes also opposes the bill because he said the language is too broad and limits discovery so that, according to the Herald, it would make it more difficult to “persuade a judge that there is a link between the investor and the nursing home.”

Wilkes has company is his opposition to the legislation and includes” Families for Better Care, National Organization for Women Florida Chapter, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, and union groups representing the health care workers in nursing homes.

The legislation will move for a vote in the legislature and it appears it could become law.