'Friendly' Florida laws may limit awards for families suing after loved ones died in hurricane-related heat

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Florida's state laws may make it harder for family members suing The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills for its handling of Hurricane Irma and the 14 resident deaths that ensued to collect legal damage awards.

To date, at least 10 lawsuits have been filed against the facility, which laid off employees late last month and closed after losing its federal funding and operating license. But those lawsuits may not bring families much monetary relief, thanks to laws limiting damages in medical cases.

The Florida Legislature passed a bill in 2014 that, among other provisions, restricts plaintiffs' ability to claim punitive damages in negligence cases to cases where a facility “actively and knowingly participated in intentional misconduct or gross negligence that contributed to the resident's damages.”

That same law protects passive investors in a nursing home, such as a real estate investment trust, from having liability for damages following a resident's injury or death due to the facility's negligence. State laws also allow providers to have as little liability insurance as they wish, Bloomberg BNA reported.

It's also not clear whether residents of The Rehabilitation Center signed arbitration agreements upon their admission, which could further complicate the suits.

“The climate and the statutes are extremely friendly to these facilities and their owners,” Jorge Silva, a plaintiff's attorney representing five residents' families in the case, told Bloomberg.