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Senate bill also addresses claims against senior living, nursing facilities

By Chris Dickerson
Feb 28, 2023

A second piece of legislation has been introduced in the Florida Legislature that would place limitations on litigation filed against senior living facilities.

Senate Bill 1304 was introduced February 28 by state Senator Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland). Like the sister bill introduced last week in the House, it includes a ban on expert witnesses testifying on a contingency fee basis.

The bill also would place new rules on admitting evidence when senior residents make claims of rights violations, according to the bill’s text. Tort reform backers see such provisions as sensible to reduce excessive litigation that can drive up senior living costs.

In addition, the bill would prohibit adult children of residents of senior living facilities from receiving non-economic damages from litigation. The bill would update code regarding nursing homes and adult living facilities to create parity with existing medical malpractice protections. Similar laws regarding hospital litigation in Florida was changed about 10 years ago.

An executive with the Florida Senior Living Association praised the legislation.

 “Florida’s assisted living facilities provide a home – as well as critical activities of daily living – to our seniors, helping ensure they have choice, dignity and quality of life," Jason Hand, FSLA's Vice President of Public Policy and Legal Affairs. “Our ALFs deserve similar litigation protections as other health care providers in the state, like nursing homes, hospitals, and physicians. Unfortunately, they have been left behind.

“Because ALFs aren’t provided similar protections regarding who can be sued and what typed of damages can be recovered, the target on ALFs’ backs gets bigger year after year, contributing to increasing insurance costs that are simply unsustainable. 

“Florida’s ALF industry is in desperate need of measured, meaningful protections, which only the Florida Legislature can provide.”

On February 21, Rep. Randall Maggard (R-Dade City) introduced House Bill 1029, which is similar to the Senate bill.

“Current long-term care liability law incentivizes plaintiffs to file lawsuits against any and every possible defendant, especially those with deep pockets, and encourages the dubious use of experts outside their scope of practice,” William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, told the Florida Record last week. “HB 1029 addresses these issues by injecting specificity and strict requirements into the evidence and expert witness processes.”

Civil litigation against long-term care facilities and other businesses has become an area of increasing concern for Florida lawmakers, since over the decade beginning in 2010 the number of jury verdicts of $10 million or more has increased by 27.5 percent, according to research by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform.

In addition, Florida has more nuclear verdicts per capita than any other state (1.059 verdicts per 100,000 residents), the ILR study states. Noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering typically make up a large proportion of such verdicts, according to the analysis.

A Senior Living study found that not having enough money saved for retirement was among the top fears of about half of all seniors. Legislation that mitigates excessive litigation against long-term care facilities could ultimately moderate the costs to reside in such facilities, according to some observers.

Nearly 21 percent of nuclear verdicts between 2010 and 2019 involved medical liability cases, according to the ILR.

The Florida Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.