The Florida Senate Judiciary Committee recently voted to approve a bill that would have a major impact on the ability of plaintiffs in nursing home lawsuits to recover punitive damages.
SB 1384, which passed by a 7-2 vote, would require that at an evidentiary hearing the individuals establish that the nursing home breached its legal duty, which resulted in the actual injury, loss, or damage to the victim.
Sources believe that rather than achieving reform, the law would preclude valid nursing home lawsuits. Current law already requires that 50% of punitive damage awards against nursing homes go to a state “quality trust fund.”
Under current law, plaintiffs must present evidence at a pre-trial hearing, but do not need to prove that it is admissible. This presentation of evidence is called a “proffer.” The bill, as written, would require a stricter hearing in order to allegedly filter the plaintiff’s evidence, and would further require the presiding judge to grant permission to seek punitive damages. The alleged aim is to prevent cases which seek to use inadmissible evidence, such as hearsay, in establishing a claim for punitive damages.
The original proposal also contained provisions making it more difficult to sue the nursing home’s parent company, but those sections have since been removed.
The bill must be approved by two additional committees before it would proceed to a full Senate vote.