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Senate committee approves limits on nursing home lawsuits

A Senate committee Tuesday narrowly approved a bill that would help prevent costly lawsuits against nursing homes, despite arguments from trial lawyers and the senior-advocacy group AARP.

The Senate Health Regulation Committee voted 7-5 to approve SB 1396, which is a top priority of the nursing home industry. The bill stalled in the committee last month, but supporters made changes before Tuesday's vote.

The bill, in part, would place a $300,000 limit on non-economic damages in wrongful-death cases against nursing homes and would make it harder to win punitive damages. Also, it would help shield nursing-home directors, officers and owners from lawsuits.

Melvin Wright, a Central Florida attorney who has represented injured nursing-home residents, called the proposal "just morally wrong" and said seniors deserve more protections from mistreatment.

"No matter how much time you have left, life is precious,'' Wright told the committee.

But Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, bristled at Wright's comments, saying trial lawyers always think attempts to limit liability are morally wrong. He also pointed to one of the bill's supporters in trying to debunk Wright's statement.

"I find it interesting the Florida Catholic Conference is in support of the bill,'' Gaetz said.