State legislators are attempting to pass laws that would make it more difficult for victims of Florida nursing home abuse, neglect and negligence to obtain just compensation for their injuries.
HB 869 is currently in the Civil Justice Committee, while SB 1384 has just one more stop before it is introduced to the Senate floor for a full debate.
We are not the only ones sincere in our hope that these measures don’t make it any farther – both the AARP and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans have issued scathing criticism of both measures. Although proponents of these bills wish to frame them as a sort of tort reform to help curb the ever-expansive greed of plaintiff lawyers, the reality is these acts are a way to shield large nursing home corporations from litigation, which in turn weakens accountability for abuse and neglect.
We all would like to think that nursing homes and nursing home corporations try to do right by our most vulnerable citizens because it’s the morally and ethically correct thing to do. Unfortunately, many of these facilities will look to cut corners in care wherever they can, so long as there is a good chance they will get away with it. But when you limit the chances of them having to pay punitive damage awards for serious wrongdoing – penalties that are already capped as it is – you are stripping patients and loved ones of the potential to seek justice.
The only ones who stand to benefit from these measures are nursing homes and nursing home corporations.
Both laws propose amendments to FL Statute 400.023. This is the law that outlines who may sue a nursing home for abuse, neglect and negligence and establishes certain guidelines, processes and fee structures. ‘
With regard to punitive damages, which are added as punishment to the defendant, the law states that the plaintiff may show the court by proffer or evidence that a reasonable basis exists for the claim. However, a judge need not approve it prior to trial. Additionally, whatever punitive damages are awarded have to be “reasonable in light of the actual harm suffered,” as well as the seriousness of the offense.
Both SB 1384 and HB 869 are homed in on the issue of punitive damages. Originally, the senate measure would have also made it difficult if not impossible to seek damages from a nursing home’s management company. That portion was later scrapped amid fierce protestations from advocacy groups, as well as the other side of the aisle.
The bills have since limited their focus to making it tougher to obtain punitive damages by requiring plaintiffs to have punitive damage claims approved by a judge at an evidentiary hearing prior to trial.