THE WAIT IS FINALLY OVER.
FLORIDA SUPREME COURT DECISION SIGNIFIES HUGE VICTORY FOR THE NURSING HOME INDUSTRY
On December 16, 2004, the Florida Supreme Court finally rendered its decision in the case of Knowles vs. Beverly Enterprises d/b/a Washington Manor holding that the Personal Representative of the Estate of a deceased resident can only bring a cause of action pursuant to Chapter 400 when the resident’s death resulted from the deprivation or infringement of the resident’s rights. QPWB attorneys George Quintairos and Edward Prieto obtained a complete defense verdict at the trial court level and argued the case all the way up to the Supreme Court of Florida.
The Knowles case proved to be a long and arduous ordeal with the Supreme Court taking over three years to finally render its decision. The trial of this cause occurred in October, 1997. Prior to trial the court granted our motion for partial summary judgment after QPWB successfully argued that the Plaintiff could not maintain her Chapter 400 action because the Complaint did not allege that the violation of the deceden’t resident rights caused the death. The trial proceeded on a negligence and negligence per se count and the jury returned a defense verdict. After the trial but before the Plaintiff’s motion for new trial was heard, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in an unrelated case (Greenfield) held that a Personal Representative could sue a nursing home for the violation of the decedent’s resident rights regardless of whether the violation caused the resident’s death. (This language was completely contrary to the clear language in the statute). Based on the Greenfield decision, the trial court had no alternative but to grant Plaintiff’s Motion for New Trial.
We immediately appealed the trial court’s decision to the Fourth District Court of Appeals arguing that the decision in Greenfield was wrong, but the court’s three judge panel ruled against us by a 3-0 margin. We then filed a Motion for Re-Hearing and/or Re-Hearing En Banc which the entire thirteen member court agreed to hear. Three months after submitting briefs, the En Banc court unanimously ruled in our favor and reversed its decision in Greenfield. In short, all 12 judges (one Judge recused himself) held that the language of the statute was clear and unambiguous in that the personal representative can only bring a cause of action when the death resulted from the violation of the resident’s rights.
Plaintiff then petitioned the Fourth DCA to certify the question to the Florida Supreme Court as a question of great public importance. The matter was briefed to the Supreme Court and oral arguments occurred on August 31, 2001. The Fourth DCA had certified the following question as one of great public importance:
MAY A PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE BRING A STATUTORY CAUSE OF ACTION UNDER §400.023(1) ON BEHALF OF A DECEASED RESIDENT OF A NURSING HOME FOR ALLEGED INFRINGEMENT OF THE RESIDENT’S STATUTORY RIGHTS PROVIDED BY §400.022 WHERE THE INFRINGEMENT HAS NOT CAUSED THE RESIDENT’S DEATH?
The Florida Supreme Court answered the question in the negative and approved the En Banc unanimous decision of the Fourth DCA. In other words, the Florida Supreme Court finally validated what we had been arguing for years: the personal representative of a deceased nursing home resident can bring a cause of action pursuant to Chapter 400.023(1) only when the death of the resident resulted from the care and treatment provided by the nursing home.
As you know, Chapter 400 was amended on May 15, 2001, to allow a personal representative to bring a cause of action without regard to whether the violation of resident rights caused the death. As such, this opinion will only affect those cases where the cause of action accrued prior to May 15, 2001. Nevertheless, this opinion did and will continue to have a significant impact on all pre-amendment cases by substantially reducing the value of those cases because this opinion essentially extinguishes all survival claims brought by the personal representative pursuant to Chapter 400.
Hugh L. Wood, Jr.
Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A.
9200 So.Dadeland Blvd., Suite PH-825
Miami, Florida 33156
(305) 670-1101 (office)
(305) 670-1161 (fax)