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Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Request to Seek Punitive Damages in Florida Nursing Home Wrongful Death Case

In June of 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida wrongful death case discussing whether the evidence presented by the plaintiff was sufficient to warrant punitive damages against the defendant nursing home. Ultimately, the court concluded that, while the evidence showed “multiple appalling examples” of situations where nursing home staff “dropped the ball,” the staff’s negligence was not attributable to the nursing home.

According to the court’s opinion, the estate of a woman who died while in the care of the defendant nursing home brought a Florida wrongful death claim against the facility, claiming that the facility’s negligence caused of the woman’s death. After the initial complaint was filed, the estate sought leave to amend to add a claim for punitive damages. The lower court granted the estate’s request, and the defendant nursing home appealed.

On appeal, the lower court’s decision to allow the estate to seek punitive damages was reversed. The court began its analysis by noting that when a plaintiff seeks to leave to amend to add a claim for punitive damages, a trial court must determine whether “there is sufficient admissible evidence … to ensure that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the claimant, at trial, will be able to demonstrate … such damages [are] warranted.” The court added that a plaintiff could meet this burden by proving either direct liability or vicarious liability.

The court explained that to show direct liability, a plaintiff must show that the defendant “actively and knowingly participated in intentional misconduct or engaged in conduct that constitutes gross negligence.” To prove vicarious liability, a plaintiff must establish “that an employee or agent of the nursing home defendants had engaged in the above conduct and that ‘an officer, director, or manager condoned, ratified, or consented to the specific conduct.”

In this case, the court held that the estate’s evidence established neither. The court explained that the evidence showed “multiple appalling examples of staff dropping the ball,” however, nothing suggested that the staff member’s actions were attributable to the nursing home. The court noted that there was no indication that nursing home administration failed to adequately staff or train the staff members, or indicated that there was any other lapse in judgment. Thus, while the individual actions of the staff members may have been negligent, the court concluded that such negligence was not attributable to the defendant nursing home. The court reversed the decision of the lower court to allow the estate’s claim for punitive damages.

Has Your Loved One Been Neglected?

If you have a loved one who has suffered abuse or neglect while living in a Florida nursing home, contact the dedicated Florida injury lawyers at Friedman Rodman & Frank. At Friedman Rodman & Frank, we represent residents and their family members in cases against nursing homes, their staff members, and administrators. We have extensive experience handling all types of Florida nursing home abuse and neglect lawsuits, and know what it takes to succeed on our client’s behalf. To learn more, call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation today. Calling is free, and because we work on a contingency basis, we will not charge you for our services unless we can help you recover for your injuries or those of your loved one.

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