Florida Legislation to Limit Lawsuits Against Nursing Homes Draws Criticism

nursing-home-legislationFamilies of Florida nursing home patients and advocates for the elderly are fighting legislation that would make it harder to sue nursing homes for abuse and neglect.

The bill cleared its last stop on Monday, the Miami Herald reported, approved in a 12-3 vote by the Senate Rules Committee. The bill now heads to the Florida senate’s floor.

Families of nursing home patients who suffered abuses have been speaking out against this legislation. Ken Thurston and his sister, Sandra Banning, whose mother was raped in 2002 at a Jacksonville nursing home by a resident with a history of sexual assaults, fear it will be even harder to have any recourse against a troubled nursing home if SB 1384 becomes a law, the Miami Herald said. Thurston asked the panel to consider “[W]hose rights are being subordinated and whose are being protected by this bill?” Kristen Knapp, communications director for the Florida Health Care Association, a trade group, said the nursing home industry “is just asking for fairness.”

Under current state law, plaintiffs must present evidence at a pre-trial hearing, but they don’t have to prove it’s admissible before the case is heard. Under the new bill, however, those suing for punitive damages would have to present “clear and convincing” evidence to a judge, who would determine if there was enough admissible evidence to proceed with the case.

AARP Florida advocacy manager Jack McRay calls the bill “unnecessary and unconscionable,” the Miami Herald said. “It’s already exceedingly difficult to get punitive damages in a case,” he said, and he pointed out that punitive damages can serve as a “deterrent factor for future behavior” on the part of a nursing home.

The bill has been stalled in the House, the Herald said, but representatives could pass the Senate version.

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