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Friday, Oct 24, 2014
Commentary

Tort legislation is an obstacle to greed, not justice, in state

Special to The Tampa Tribune
Published:

Regarding “Obstacle to justice for nursing patients” (Our Views, April 20):

As the state’s leading advocate for Florida’s nursing homes and the residents under their care, we want to set the record straight about nursing home lawsuit abuse. Senate Bill 1384 is a long-overdue remedy to a legal system that ranks among the worst in the nation, with attempts to extort money from businesses using the courts as an all-too-common practice in our increasingly litigious society.

Senate Bill 1384 does nothing to weaken protections, but it does draw a line against the kind of legal mischief that’s enriched personal injury attorneys while depriving nursing homes of resources devoted to the care of our loved ones.

Many nursing home lawsuits have nothing to do with seeking redress for real negligence or even with improving conditions for residents. Because all citations must be reported, even those that are later proven to be unfounded, the data is easily exploited to prey on the emotions of seniors and their families in order to seek clients for litigations.

Every industry can and should be held accountable, and this legislation does nothing to change that. Senate Bill 1384 allows patients to sue for negligence and damages for those who purposely or consciously harm our seniors. Owners are not immune. Regarding claims for punitive damages, the bill ensures such claims are based on evidence, not hearsay, and are driven by the merits of the case, not by a personal injury lawyer’s attempted push to enrich himself with someone else’s bank account.

The unfortunate reality is that punitive damages, when awarded for serious and egregious behavior, go mostly to others, not to the plaintiff. Those lawyers who specialize in suing nursing homes oppose this legislation because it removes their ability to generate higher out-of-court settlements and squeeze out more dollars for their fees.

The cost to nursing home care from frivolous or malicious suits driven by personal injury lawyers is draining resources that go directly to those responsible for delivering that care — doctors, nurses, therapists and others who have dedicated their lives to helping others. When trial lawyers profit at the expense of others and support policies that help themselves more than those they represent, it’s not legal representation — it’s larceny.

The truth is lawsuits do nothing to improve quality. Quality is good because our state’s nursing homes are committed to an environment where the highest standard of care is the norm. And standards here are consistently rated among the nation’s best. Federal regulators give more than 50 percent of Florida nursing homes a four- or five-star rating, and facilities continue to staff well above the national average. Individuals are receiving more time with nurses on a daily basis, which is important given the changing health needs of today’s resident. Customer satisfaction remains high among long-stay residents and their families, and short-stay patients’ satisfaction has significantly improved in recent years.

Senate Bill 1384 is simply another attempt by Florida leaders, this time spearheaded by Sen. Bill Galvano, to ensure we continue holding our nursing homes to the highest standards while protecting our system of justice against selfishness, greed and harm.


J. Emmett Reed is executive director of the Florida Health Care Association, the state’s first and largest advocacy organization for long-term care providers and the residents under their care. He can be reached at ereed@fhca.org.

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