Lawsuits are hurting Florida’s nursing homes and patients | Commentary

By William W. Large, Florida Justice Reform Institute

Orlando Sentinel | January 10, 2019

Florida has long been the bullseye for trial lawyers. A recent study of law firm and legal services ads by the American Tort Reform Association counted one ad every two minutes from April through June of last year in the Tampa Bay market alone. Meanwhile, Florida also ranked as the second-worst “judicial hellhole” in another study of the most unfair and unbalanced civil court systems.

One of the trial lawyers’ favorite targets is the nursing-home profession. They spread the message that nursing homes and their staff are failing our seniors. Their objective is to use the guilt faced by family members who must make the difficult decision to place their loved one in a nursing home.

Meanwhile, the final stages of life can be stressful for family members, even when their loved ones receive the best of care. A lack of appetite, weight loss, confusion and agitation, changes in skin temperature and color are often signs that are unfamiliar and upsetting. Sadly, lawyers seek to profit by exploiting these experiences and using family members as leverage in settlement negotiations.

These lawsuits also create problems for the people entrusted with caring for our elderly friends and family members. Working to ensure our seniors receive the attention and treatment they deserve is extremely difficult when you are constantly worried whether you will be sued.

In addition, nursing homes spend an excessive amount of time and money just to prevent, settle and litigate excessive claims. State and federal governments set resident reimbursement rates based on the cost of care. Excessive lawsuits drain precious dollars from the limited pool of funds that would otherwise be used by the nursing home to better enhance the resident’s experience.

Besides their financial implications, these lawsuits also sow doubt in the public conscience. After seeing these ads and reading about lawsuits, some may ask whether it is even worth placing their parents or other family members in a nursing home at all.

Rather than seeking professional care that can lend proper attention to those family members, they may simply avoid skilled nursing care altogether and unintentionally risk their parents’ or grandparents’ wellbeing, all because of the fear and doubt generated by trial lawyers.

Proper, well thought-out, and meaningful action to address the excessive lawsuits aimed at our nursing homes could go a long way toward ridding Florida of its already infamously litigious reputation. Solutions such as limits on out-of-control discovery requests, and ensuring that expert witnesses are practicing professionals in the field, would make the legal process less expensive and more fair.

Without action, the future is not bright for our nursing homes and our seniors. It is time for our legislators to enact measures that will get rid of excessive litigation while protecting those who want nothing more than to provide the aid and assistance so many families desperately need.

William W. Large is president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute. He led former Gov. Jeb Bush’s fight to reform medical malpractice rules to cap damage awards.