Florida Bill Seeks to Limit Nursing Home Lawsuits

Florida lawmakers are planning to introduce a new bill that seeks to limit the ability of plaintiffs to pursue lawsuits against the backers of nursing homes that engage in negligent and abusive care of residents.

The Florida House Judiciary Committee approved HB 569 late last month, clearing the way for a vote before the full house.

The Florida Senate passed its version of the bill this week, which contains provisions designed to prohibit nursing home lawsuits being pursued by residents or their family members against investors, unless it can be shown that their actions had a hand in neglect or abuse at facilities they finance. Nursing home management corporations are not included in that provision.

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The bill also contains provisions that seek to force nursing homes that have been the subject of judgments to pay up, amid complaints that some victims either face long waiting periods to get money awarded by the court, if they ever get the compensation awarded at all. In many cases, a delay in payments could mean no money at all, since many of the plaintiffs are of advanced age and may not live to see the nursing home finally pay.

Florida media outlets indicate that Republicans in the state introduced the bill to target one specific law firm, which has been seeking damages from both investors and the nursing homes themselves, increasing their chances of obtaining compensation for the facilities’ bad behavior.

The current version of the bill comes after negotiations between the Florida Health Care Association, a pro-plaintiff group called the Florida Justice Association, and the AARP, which represents the interests of the elderly. The AARP was previously opposed to the legislation, but agreed to back it after the legislation was changed to include provisions allowing residents to sue corporations that make decisions that can be shown to directly contribute to the injury.

The bill comes less than a year after two companies that ran a Florida nursing home were hit with a $1.2 billion jury judgment for mistreatment of residents. In July 2013, a Polk County jury ruled that Trans Healthcare Inc. and Trans Healthcare Management should pay $220 million in compensatory damages and $1 billion in punitive damages to the family of Arlene Townsend.

Townsend died at Auburn Oaks Healthcare Center after repeated falls. The family’s nursing home wrongful death lawsuit claimed she did not receive the proper supervision. The companies ignored the litigation and failed to participate in the lawsuit, leading a Florida court to entering a default judgment.

The case was at least the second such judgment against the companies, who were hit with a $114 million jury verdict in 2010 after ignoring that case as well. That money has still not been collected.

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