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.
Fortunately, this bill would not affect Maryland or Washington D.C., although its passage would be troubling in the event that lawmakers Maryland decide to propose similar legislation. Mainly, this is because there are two main flaws with this approach to restricting justified lawsuits. First of all, just by requiring this higher standard, individual plaintiffs may feel intimidated, or not be able to afford the additional expenses associated with gathering and presenting evidence. Thus, it may filter out cases that have a worthy foundation.
Secondly, cases which lack the evidentiary support for punitive damages will not be granted those damages. For example, defendants can utilize a motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgment if they believe that there is truly no justified claim. If this is the case, the judge would grant the motion, and the case would be over. There is no need to piecemeal identify punitive damages, which by their very nature are not necessarily easy to prove or secure, and increase the burden on plaintiffs who have already been harmed due to the defendant’s actions.
If you believe that your loved one or an elderly friend in the Maryland or the Washington D.C. areas has suffered injury or death as a result of nursing home abuse or neglect, contact the knowledgeable nursing home negligence and abuse attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen right away. Our attorneys can evaluate your case and help assess whether your loved one or friend may have a cause of action against the nursing home, and we can advise you regarding what to do next. We have many years of experience representing individuals in securing a favorable settlement or judgment in order to compensate for the injuries suffered or wrongful death caused as a result of nursing home neglect or abuse. Contact our office today in order to set up your free and confidential initial consultation. You can contact us by calling (800) 654-1949 or through our website.
More Blog Posts:
Fire Drill in Nursing Home Leads to Wrongful Death Suit, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published May 10, 2013
Department of Health Substantiates Claims of Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published May 6, 2013