Reforms cut number of lawsuits filed against Florida nursing homes

Share this content:

Broad nursing home reforms passed three years ago in Florida have cut the number of lawsuits filed against nursing homes, according to a study undertaken by the highest profile law firm that sues long-term care facilities in Florida.

The number of lawsuits filed was 17% lower than the final year before reforms passed, according to Wilkes & McHugh, the Tampa-based law firm that compared lawsuit data for 32 Florida counties. An earlier Orlando Sentinel comparison of five central Florida counties also showed a decrease in lawsuit filings. Reforms made it harder to sue nursing homes, and capped possible punitive damage awards.

Nursing home advocates dismissed the law firm's findings. They said that many nursing homes are still underinsured because of sky-high liability coverage costs.

"There's no relief at all in the insurance market," said Ed Towey, a spokesman for the Florida Health Care Association. He added that the drop in lawsuits filed was "meaningless" because only lawsuits that were actually field were counted.

Many potential lawsuits are settled after "notices of intent" are filed but before the actual lawsuit is filed. "Liability claims have not abated at all," Towey said. A state agency compiled figures on notices of intent and said they dipped slightly in 2002 but headed back up in 2003.