Imagine discovering that your elderly loved one suffered abuse or neglect at a nursing home you trusted to provide the care you could not give in your own home. Now imagine that the nursing home was aware of the situation and took no meaningful action to stop it. You may have the right to sue for damages, but these penalties may not be enough to dissuade the facility from continuing its harmful practices. On the other hand, punitive damages, which attach further monetary penalties to a liable party, can be effective deterrents that cause nursing homes to exercise more care in the future.
A Florida Senate bill proposed in 2013 would have raised the bar for justifying punitive damages in a state whose existing legislation significantly limits claimants’ ability to seek this extra measure. Under SB 1384, plaintiffs would have to appear at an evidentiary hearing before the actual trial begins and prove that their evidence shows any of the following:
That the defendant exercised intentional misconduct, meaning the person knew of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the likelihood of injury or damage to the claimant, yet still engaged in the act
That the defendant engaged in gross negligence — conduct so reckless that it represents a conscious disregard or indifference for the rights of the claimant
That the defendant condoned, ratified or consented to the conduct
The good news is that this bill did not have enough support to move forward, and it does not appear to be on the schedule for 2014. However, Florida medical malpractice attorneys need to keep a close watch on future bills addressing punitive damages. This type of legislation could have a profound effect on an important legal measure used to protect nursing home residents and to ensure they receive the care they need and deserve.