scales of justice

Nursing home operators in Florida could see the prospects of wrongful death lawsuits slashed under legislation making its way through the House and Senate.

Bills filed in both chambers would allow only spouses and surviving children under age 25 to file wrongful death suits. The legislation also would prohibit experts from collecting contingency fees for their testimony and require written statements from experts with specific kinds of experience agreeing there are “reasonable grounds” for a lawsuit, according to the legislative text.

Such changes would prevent 90% of wrongful death lawsuits against nursing homes, one plaintiff’s attorney estimated. 

Providers say they’re in favor of accountability but want lawmakers to close legal loopholes so the state’s “sue-to-settle” climate does not cause extra damage.

“LeadingAge Florida supports preserving avenues to hold bad actors accountable, while extending current protections already in law to assisted living facilities and nursing homes,” spokesman Nick Van Der Linden told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Wednesday. “However, lawsuits against long-term care facilities have grown more expensive to settle, and this legislation will help prevent sue-to-settle tactics from diverting resources that are necessary to continue providing the highest quality care.”

Restricting filers to spouses and younger children would block the vast majority of cases,  according to a plaintiff’s attorney with Senior Justice Law Firm.  The legislation would “give immunity to Florida nursing homes … when they kill patients,” claimed Michael Brevda in the Tampa Bay Times.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that violations were up significantly at nursing homes over the last few years. 

However, lawsuits “demoralize hard working staff and divert resources” that otherwise could go to improving the quality of care and health outcomes for residents, cautioned the Florida Health Care Association. 

A researcher at the University of Louisville who was instrumental in creating a series of tort reforms passed by lawmakers in 2001 to limit lawsuits and improve nursing home care said facilities’ insurance premiums had been spiking back then “in the face of a wave of legislation,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“There was this grave concern that Florida nursing homes were going to have to shut down because of excessive litigation,” Christopher Johnson said.

There are two months remaining in Florida’s legislative session, and the fate of the bills remains uncertain.