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Florida Nursing Home May Not Face Criminal Charges

In the wake of the devastating news coming from one Hollywood, FL nursing home where 10 patients died as a result of damages incurred during Hurricane Irma, many are outraged and demanding criminal charges be brought against the nursing home staff and owner. Despite the fact that lives were lost during this tragic event, a criminal conviction against the home for the deaths of these patients may be hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, according to Florida law. It may even be difficult to bring charges against the home, due to the definitions of a crime related to an incident of this kind.

What happened in the Hollywood nursing home?

In an unfortunate incident, 10 nursing home patients died as a result of being inside a nursing home in Broward County that had lost its air conditioning (AC) due to a fallen tree knocking out a transformer that powered the AC at the facility. Though the home had power otherwise, the AC was out for three days. Despite the actions of some of the staff to help cool patients through coolers, fans, ice, and other methods to keep the patients from overheating, emergency calls were made on the morning of the third day alerting medical responders that patients were found to be nonresponsive.

According to the home, the loss of AC was reported to Florida Power & Light, and the utility promised to make repairs in two days, but never showed. Governor Rick Scott's office also said that the nursing home was in contact with the state, but never mentioned how dangerous the situation actually was for the residents.

Under state law, a building's temperature cannot exceed 81 degrees, and according to the home at the time of the incident, the internal temperature did not exceed 80. Staff at the home reported that a physician's assistant was checking on the residents and none were overheated during the checks. In addition, the home borrowed portable air coolers from the hospital across the street.

Was it Negligence, or Culpable Negligence?

In order to be considered a crime and to warrant criminal charges in the state of Florida, the state has to prove that there was more than simply negligence on the part of nursing home staff and ownership. The difference between making a mistake, however tragic the outcome of that mistake, and having a reckless and wanton disregard for the lives and safety of the residents of the home is the standard for criminal charges.

For criminal charges, the state must prove that the home exposed a person to personal injury, or death, or caused the injury or death of that person, and this injury, or death, occurred because the home was culpably negligent. In this case, due to the number of deaths, manslaughter charges could be brought against the home, resulting in up to 30 years in prison for the convicted, if they state prosecutor's office determines that there was culpable negligence on the behalf of the home. However, proving culpable negligence, or gross disregard for the safety of these patients, as opposed to basic negligence is what makes the difference between a civil case and criminal charges.

If you are accused of a crime of culpable negligence, it's very important that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can assist you in understanding the charges against you, and help you navigate the criminal justice system.

References:

Spencer, T. (2017, September 21). Florida nursing home might not face criminal charges, despite 10 deaths. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-nursing-home-deaths-legal-20170921-story.html

Spencer, T. (2017, September 21). Was it a Crime? 10 Patients at a Nursing Home Died After Irma. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/florida/articles/2017-09-21/ex-prosecutors-unsure-if-nursing-home-deaths-involved-crimes

Teproffjweaver@miamiherald.com, J. W. (n.d.). 'Somebody needs to go to jail' for nursing home ordeal. Somebody might. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/article173437936.html

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