In the wake of Hurricane Irma, perhaps the most tragic news is coming from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a 152-bed nursing home facility serving patients from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties. As has been widely reported, as many as 9 patients have now passed away as a result of high temperatures when the power went out at the nursing home. Unfortunately, the nursing home did not have appropriate policies or procedures in place to protect their extremely vulnerable patients in emergency situations.
This appears to be a clear violation of Florida law, as Florida Statues § 400.022 provides specific rights for nursing home residents. These rights include:
- “The right to receive adequate and appropriate health care and protective and support services,”
- “The right to be treated courteously, fairly, and with the fullest measure of dignity,” and
- “The right to be free from mental and physical abuse.”
Now, given the widespread media attention, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which is owned by Larkin Community Hospital, is pointing the finger at Governor Rick Scott, while Governor Scott is pointing the finger at the nursing home and its staff. The Governor recently released 159 pages of documents in hopes of deflecting blame away from the Governor’s office. (http://www.flgov.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/DOC.pdf).
But finger-pointing between The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and Governor Scott isn’t helpful to families who lost loved ones or whose relatives sustained serious injuries or conditions as a result of the neglect they experienced at the facility. Fortunately, our justice system and Florida law provide a mechanism for victims of nursing home abuse or neglect and their families to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions and be compensated for the injuries.
However, suing a nursing home, such as The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, is not like your average, everyday lawsuit. Florida law has specific requirements you must abide by before suing a nursing home or long-term care facility. The existence of these legal obstacles and pitfalls exclusive to nursing home cases is precisely why you should consult an attorney who has experience and a proven track record in nursing home cases, rather than a lawyer who handles other sorts of cases.
Chapter 400 of the Florida Statutes is the law by which attorneys must abide when filing a lawsuit against a nursing home or long-term health care facility. The requirements of Chapter 400 apply to lawsuits against “any institution, building, residence, private home, or other place, whether operated for profit or not, including a place operated by a county or municipality, which undertakes through its ownership or management to provide for a period exceeding 24-hour nursing care, personal care, or custodial care for three or more persons not related to the owner or manager by blood or marriage, who by reason of illness, physical infirmity, or advanced age require such services, but does not include any place providing care and treatment primarily for the acutely ill.” Fla. Stat. § 400.021(7).
While many lawyers might think to immediately file a lawsuit, a lawyer with experience in nursing home cases will know that doing so would be a great error. Before filing a lawsuit against a nursing home, Florida law mandates that you must first go through the “presuit” process. This requires your lawyer to notify the responsible parties of the claim, and describe the specific rights that were violated or the specific negligent acts that caused the injury or death, as well as the injuries that were sustained. The notice, which must be sent by certified mail, also must contain a certification from your lawyer that the lawyer conducted a reasonable investigation and that investigation “gave rise to a good faith belief” that there is a legitimate case against each prospective defendant. Fla. Stat. § 400.0233. Once the notice is mailed, you must wait 75 days, during which time each defendant or its insurance company must, in good faith, evaluate the claim and determine the liability of each defendant and the damages. During this period there will be an informal “discovery” process where you exchange documents and other materials with the defendants. At or before the end of the 75 days, the defendant or insurer must either reject the claim or make a settlement offer. Within 30 days from the response, the parties must meet in mediation to discuss the issues of liability and damages. If the matter does not settle, only then can a lawsuit be filed, and it must be filed within 60 days from the mediation or the remainder of the period of the statute of limitations, whichever is greater. Fla. Stat. § 400.0233(11).
Importantly, an inexperienced lawyer’s mistakes have the potential to reduce your recovery or even forever bar you from making a claim. For example, if a settlement offer is made during the pursuit, you only have 15 days from receipt of the offer to accept it—otherwise. Florida law says the offer “shall be deemed rejected.” Fla. Stat. § 400.0233(9). Further, unless it can be shown that fraudulent concealment or intentional misrepresentation of fact prevented discovery of the injury, the present process must be initiated “within 2 years from the time the incident giving rise to the action occurred or within 2 years from the time the incident is discovered or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence; however, in no event shall the action be commenced later than 4 years from the date of the incident or occurrence out of which the cause of action accrued.” Fla. Stat. § 400.0236(1).
As you can see, this process can be a procedural nightmare for an inexperienced lawyer, and minor errors can be fatal to your case. This is precisely why you need a specific type of lawyer with a proven track record in cases against nursing homes.
At Freidin Brown, P.A., we have over 100 years of collective experience holding nursing homes all over Florida accountable for mistreating the most vulnerable members of society. Our team has recovered millions of victims of nursing home abuse and neglect, and we are proud to have helped families obtain justice when their loved ones were abused or neglected in a nursing home. We are ready and willing to use our resources to assist you in any way we can—24 hours a day, 7 days a week.