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Would proposed Florida bill let nursing homes off the hook?

At a House committee meeting last week, a man shared the story of his father's death in a nursing home. His father had been eating dinner and was left alone by the staff, a situation that should not have occurred. He died after choking on his food because no one was nearby to help him.

In other scenarios such as this one, family members have to deal with the loss of a loved one because a nursing home staff was negligent in the care provided. But now Florida legislators are considering a newly proposed bill that is intended to increase the difficulty of suing nursing homes by limiting the amount that can be awarded in a lawsuit.

This proposal would limit the settlement award for wrongful death suits if the nursing home had no previous wrongful death cases. The bill would also prevent lawsuits from naming nursing home investors or out-of-town owners as defendants.

Supporters of the proposed bill, including an organization that represents owners of nursing homes, believe that the bill would help divert money typically spent on defending from lawsuits to being used to increase the quality of patient care. They hope that the bill, if passed, would encourage health care investors rather than scare them off with the prospect of a lawsuit.

Those who oppose the legislation believe that the bill will reduce accountability because nursing homes don't have to worry about lawsuits. Opposition also has raised the concern that the proposed bill does not provide support for nursing home residents if an injury or death occurs because of negligence.

For families who have lost loved ones because of nursing home negligence, there is little comfort in knowing that the people responsible for the death will not have to pay for their mistake. If someone causes the death, shouldn't they be held accountable for their actions?

Source: The Florida Times-Union online, "Bill would protect Florida nursing homes in lawsuits," Lily Rockwell, 04 April 2011

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