Florida Court Finds Utility Not Liable for Nursing Home Deaths During Irma
As reported in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, a state appeals court has affirmed a lower court ruling that Florida Power & Light was not legally responsible when residents in a Broward County nursing home died during a hurricane. As many readers will remember, the nursing home lost its power after Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, leaving elderly and frail residents in sweltering conditions and without air conditioning.
The lawsuit was brought by a resident who was living in the Hollywood Hills nursing home. The air conditioning system was out for three days and up to a dozen residents ultimately perished. Many more suffered extreme distress.
No Legal Duty of Care
The plaintiff brought her case under a theory of negligence. Generally, if an action a person takes could harm someone else, then they must perform the action with sufficient care. When they don’t, and a victim is injured, then the defendant is legally liable for the injury.
The question in this case was whether Florida Power & Light owed a duty of care to residents in the nursing home. The plaintiff alleged that the utility company was negligent in how it failed to restore power in a timely manner, and that it owed a general duty to the public.
The appeals court disagreed. It found that the utility company did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care, so whether the utility was careless was not legally relevant.
The court’s reasoning focused heavily on the policy considerations. For example, the appellate court focused on the fact that agreeing with the plaintiff would create “enormous liability” for utility companies any time there was a power outage. Furthermore, the judges believed that there was “extensive regulation” of utilities like Florida Power & Light already. Having juries decide whether the utility operated adequately would interfere with the regulation by possibly creating conflicting standards the utility must follow.
These are really policy considerations, not legal ones. However, courts are empowered to determine whether a defendant owes a person a duty of care, and it is unlikely that the Florida Supreme Court will overturn this case.
Is Your Nursing Home Prepared?
The nursing home at issue, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, ultimately had its license revoked due to the tragedy that unfolded during Hurricane Irma. An administrative law judge found that about 9 of the 12 residents who died suffered tremendously due to the “unsafe heat” in the nursing home.
Florida has put in the place regulations to ensure that nursing homes have sufficient generators for when the next hurricane strikes, perhaps sometime this year. These generators should be able to power air conditioning units for up to 96 hours after a declared emergency. However, other reports have found that nursing homes have been lax in their compliance. Some nursing home chains are refusing to install permanent backup generators in each home but instead will deliver portable ones to whichever homes need them following a storm.
Speak with a Volusia County Personal Injury Lawyer
If a loved one is injured in a nursing home during a storm, please contact us. Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities must be held accountable when residents are injured due to their negligent preparations for storms. Call the Daytona Beach nursing home abuse attorneys at Bundza & Rodriguez today at 386-252-5170 to schedule a free consultation.