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Bill to limit punitive damage suits against nursing homes likely finished

A controversial bill that would raise the standards for suing a nursing home for punitive damages appears to be finished for this session.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the bill (SB 1384) "hasn't moved at all in the House, so unless some movement in the House" it looks like time has run out. Galvano also said the bill is off the Special Order calendar in the Senate.

The bill had the backing of the nursing home industry but had angered groups like the AARP and the Florida Justice Association as well as relatives of nursing home patients.

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Under current law, plaintiffs present evidence for a pre-trial hearing, but they don't have to prove it's admissable before the case. The bill would have raised the bar, forcing those suing for punitive damages to present "clear and convincing" evidence to a judge. The judge would then decide in a pretrial hearing if there's enough admissible evidence to proceed with the case.

Kristen Knapp, communications director for the Florida Health Care Association, the trade group representing 500 of the state's nearly 700 nursing home facilities, had said the bill was needed to counter "predatory trial lawyers who are using punitive damages to inflate the cost of settlements."

AARP Florida advocacy manager Jack McRay has said that it's "already exceedingly difficult to get punitive damages in a case." Making it harder, he said, "eliminates the deterrent factor for future behavior."