Tampa, FL (Law Firm Newswire) May 20, 2013 – A bill that would make it more difficult to sue nursing homes passed a Florida Senate committee.
SB 1384, sponsored by Senator Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 7-2 vote. The bill would affect plaintiffs seeking to recover punitive damages from nursing homes. They would have to establish at an evidentiary hearing that the nursing home breached its legal duty, resulting in actual injury, loss, or damage.
“While some lawsuits brought against nursing homes, as in any field of practice, may be frivolous or unfounded, I think this bill is a misguided attempt at reform,” said Tampa nursing home abuse lawyer Robert Joyce. “If this bill becomes law, some perfectly valid and necessary lawsuits may be held up or even prevented from proceeding.”
Under current law, plaintiffs must present evidence at a pre-trial hearing, but need not prove that it is admissible. This presentation of evidence is called a “proffer.” Galvano’s bill would require a stricter hearing to vet the plaintiff’s evidence and would require the presiding judge to grant permission to seek punitive damages.
Galvano said that his bill prevents proffers on what may turn out to be inadmissible evidence or hearsay.
Before passing committee, the bill was significantly amended to remove a provision that made it more difficult to sue a nursing home’s parent company. Galvano said that in the spirit of compromise, he would not oppose the change.
The bill now concerns only punitive damages. Opponents say it still goes too far because a 2001 law set the bar too high already. That change requires 50 percent of punitive damages awarded against nursing homes to go to a state “quality trust fund.” Steve Watrel, an attorney in Jacksonville who opposes Galvano’s bill, said the change was a disincentive to punitive damage claims, and no such claims have been awarded since it was enacted.
Other opponents who urged lawmakers to reject the bill included the AARP and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans.
Two more committees must approve the bill before the full Senate can vote on it. Its House companion bill is HB 869.
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