Nursing home owners would get new lawsuit protections under a House measure that passed its next-to-last committee stop Monday.
Those protections include making it harder to sue corporate directors and limiting the use of state and federal audits in nursing home litigation. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, a co-sponsor, said the measure seeks to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits that only increase costs, not care. “There’s no correlation whatsoever between lawsuits and care,” he said. Critics saw it as part of a broader deregulation effort that favors corporations. “Unfortunately, this bill is a mirror image of everything else going on,” said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. Over the last decade, notices of lawsuits against nursing homes have decreased by more than half – from 1,150 in the 2002 fiscal year to 403 in the 2010 fiscal year, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration. The new proposal says only the “licensee or its management company” and the direct caregiver employees can be sued as part of a neglect case. Owners and company directors could not be named as defendants unless a judge holds a hearing and determines they breached their duties. Nathan Carter, an Orlando lawyer, said corporate parents of nursing homes will use licensees with no assets in order to avoid responsibility. “These are not mom and pop operations,” he told the House health committee. Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, proposed amending the measure to require license holders be insured or present a letter of credit. That amendment failed. The proposal also makes it harder to prove understaffing led to a particular case of neglect. That’s because overall staffing problems noted in routine state audits would not be admissible in a lawsuit. “Non-economic” damages, such as mental pain and suffering, would be capped at $300,000. Over in the Senate today, a similar nursing home proposal ran out of time. The Senate judiciary committee ended in the middle of public testimony on that proposal, sponsored by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Ft. Lauderdale. Sen. Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican who serves as the committee’s chairwoman, said she has no more meetings scheduled for the year. But she said not to count out the Senate’s version of the nursing home legislation. “I don’t think the bill is dead,” said Flores. “There’s a whole two weeks left. Anything can happen.”