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A ninety-four year old woman reported being sexually assaulted by an unknown male at the Brookdale Atrium Way 2  nursing home in the Regency area of Jacksonville last April.  According to the victim, the perpetrator was wearing scrubs.  At the hospital, it was confirmed that she was sexually assaulted.  According to her lawyers, DNA testing suggests that the assailant may not have been an employee of the nursing home.  No one has been arrested.

The woman has hired lawyers to file a lawsuit for nursing home neglect. Notably, two other residents have reported being assaulted at the same nursing home this year, including one other rape and one attempted rape.  Descriptions of the perpetrator in each instance have been vague.  Family members and residents have expressed concerns and questions remain whether they were not fully informed of the nature of the attacks.

Assuming the assailant was not an employee, the woman’s lawsuit will focus on the security measures taken to ensure strangers do not walk into the nursing home without being screened – which can prove to be a difficult task for nursing home operators.   If it turns out that the assailant was an employee, the lawsuit will focus on whether that employee was appropriately screened and whether there were prior incidents or complaints regarding his behavior.

Nursing homes can provide an environment attractive to opportunistic predators.  There are a lot of people coming and going in a nursing home including family members, medical providers that are not employed by the nursing home, employees brought in from a temp agency, and private nurses and assistants hired by family members.  In addition, there is a lot of employee turnover at nursing homes so new people in scrubs are a common sight.   A person in scrubs can easily walk into almost any nursing home, past the information desk and into a resident’s room.

Sexual assaults in nursing homes are a significant problem.  Elderly people can be targeted due to physical and cognitive infirmities, making getting away with such a crime more likely.  All nursing homes are aware of this potential problem and are charged with the duty to take necessary measures in an effort to prevent sexual assaults.

Generally speaking, Brookdale Atrium Way 2 receives fairly good ratings from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as reflected on its Nursing Home Compare website, which has assigned it an overall rating of four out of five stars.  It received a “quality measures” rating of five stars, a “staffing rating” of four stars and a “health inspection rating” of only two stars.

“Quality measures” ratings are based on various factors regarding the health of residents including: how often residents have to be sent to a hospital; how often residents have to be sent to the emergency room; the number of residents receiving anti-psychotic medications; and the development or worsening of bedsores. “Staffing ratings” are based on each nursing home’s report of the number of nurses and nurse assistants that worked during a given time frame compared to the number of residents living at the nursing home.  The “health inspection” rating focuses on the safety of the building, food service, medication management, housekeeping and maintenance.  Continue reading

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Private nursing homes deserve to make a profit – a fair profit.  Nursing home operators, like those managing any other type of business, take steps necessary to maximize profit.  However, far too often, the methods used to do so run afoul of nursing homes’ statutory and moral obligation to “attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental and psycho-social well-being” for their residents.

Many of the expenses in operating a nursing home are fixed – meaning there is nothing the operators can do to decrease them.  Expenses such as rent, food, supplies, and electricity are not easily decreased. On the other hand, staffing is an area where money can be saved; however, often at the expense of the residents.

In the clinical setting, nursing homes typically have registered nurses, licensed professional nurses and certified nursing assistants.  They may also have physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. The highest expense for a nursing home is staffing and the most expensive employees are registered nurses.

Our Jacksonville nursing home abuse and neglect lawyers see the effects of understaffing in nearly every case we handle.  Most commonly, we see the number of registered nurses cut to the bare minimum. Why does this matter?  It takes at least two years of college to become a registered nurse and many have a four year bachelor’s degree.  In contrast, it takes about one year of schooling to become an LPN.

Florida’s Nurse Practice Act spells out the resulting difference: RNs are able to make assessments of patients’ conditions; while LPNs are not.  This means that an RN has the training and experience to consider what is going on with a nursing home resident and make, or suggest, changes to his or her care plan, medication or treatments.  LPNs, on the other hand, are not trained to make such assessments.

Many people think that the resident’s doctor will make rounds and perform global assessments on a frequent basis.  This is not accurate.  After an initial visit, it is common that doctors only see residents when a concern is brought to their attention.  Without registered nurses performing assessments, a patient’s decline, whether it be from infection, malnutrition or dehydration, often goes unnoticed until it is too late.

We have seen many examples of this here in Jacksonville.  In 2016, we resolved a wrongful death case against a large chain nursing home operator whose employees apparently did not notice its resident had an infection until it had gotten so bad that he was rendered unconscious by sepsis.  He died within a day of being transferred to Memorial Hospital Jacksonville.   Notably, the nursing home could not produce a single nurse’s note for the last week of his life.  Had a registered nurse seen him, his infection may have been caught and treated before he became terminally ill.  That nursing home was severely understaffed, and was found to be especially lacking in registered nurses.  The man was only 61 years old.

Attending doctors will not take up the slack.  It is important to understand that the doctors that make rounds at nursing homes are typically not employees of the nursing homes.  Most residents are assigned a doctor by the nursing home.  The nursing home chooses among several that it has contracts with; however, the doctor is not an employee of the nursing home.  Further, any neglect on the part of the doctor is not attributable to the nursing home.

Florida has standards that require a minimum number of LPNs and CNAs.  A nursing home’s failure to meet these standards can result in a moratorium on new admissions.  In just about every nursing home case we litigate, we find that the nursing home staffed only to the level of these minimums regardless of  how serious the needs of their residents are.  We have also found examples where a nursing home inflated the number of staff performing direct care to the residents in order to make it appear that the standards were met.  Continue reading

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As Florida’s largest,  and the country’s sixth largest, nursing home operator, Consulate Health Care operates approximately 77 nursing homes in Florida and approximately 210 nationwide.  Statewide, Consulate has had a spate of regulatory and judicial troubles as outlined by the this article in the Naples Daily News: https://www.naplesnews.com/story/news/special-reports/2018/05/31/neglected-fraud-and-abuse-nursing-homes-florida/542609002/.

Highlighting those troubles is a judgment entered against Consulate in February of this year for $347.8 million arising out of allegations of Medicare and Medicaid fraud.  While that judgment was set aside by the Federal trial Court, an appeal is pending.

In the Jacksonville area, Consulate operates five nursing homes: Consulate Health Care of Jacksonville; San Jose Health and Rehabilitation; Harts Harbor Health Care Center; Consulate Health Care of Orange Park; and Governors Creek Health and Rehabilitation.   None of these nursing homes has received more than 2 stars on a one to five star scale set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Governors Creek Health and Rehabilitation Center in Green Cove Springs, Florida, has a one star ranking.  The remaining four nursing homes each have a two star ranking.

Medicare ranks every nursing home in the country that receives payment from Medicare on the one to five star scale.  Rankings are based on  criteria including: health inspections; staffing levels; and 16 different quality measures.

Health inspections are conducted by Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration.  Approximately once a year, each nursing home is subjected to an unannounced survey.  In addition, AHCA may also survey a nursing home in response to a complaint.  During a survey, the inspectors review random resident records, staffing reports and the nursing home’s policies and procedures.  Inspectors also interview residents and family members.  In addition, building issues, such as cleanliness and fire protection equipment are evaluated.

Staffing levels are assessed based on “per patient day” averaging.  The number of registered nurse, licensed practical nurse and certified nurse assistants employed are broken down on a per patient day average.

The quality measures include: the percent of residents who report moderate to severe pain; the percent of residents with new or worsened pressure ulcers (bedsores); the percent of residents who were given the flu vaccine; the percent of residents given anti-psychotic medication; the percent of residents experiencing falls causing major injuries; the percent of residents with urinary tract infections; the percent of residents who develop bowel or bladder incontinence; the percent of residents requiring an indwelling urinary catheter; the percent of residents who were physically restrained; the percent of residents whose need for assistance with activities of daily living has increased; the percent of residents losing an excessive amount of weight; and the percent of residents suffering from depression.

Here in Jacksonville, our nursing home abuse lawyers have handled three wrongful death cases against Consulate’s Jacksonville area nursing homes.  In comparison, we have never accepted a case against any of the five star facilities in the Jacksonville area.  Continue reading

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A licensed practical nurse working at Life Care Center of Orange Park nursing home was arrested this week for grand theft of a controlled substance.  The arrest came following an investigation into missing prescription painkillers.  Over one hundred hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were reported missing.

Life Care Centers operates hundreds of nursing homes in twenty-eight states.  In the Jacksonville area, it operates three nursing homes: Life Care Center of Jacksonville; Life Care Center at Wells Crossing (located in Orange Park); and Life Care Center of Orange Park.  These three nursing homes have received high rankings from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, respectively earning five stars, three stars and five stars on CMS’ one to five star rating system.  While certainly not an infallible measure of quality, our lawyers have noticed a strong correlation between the ranking system and the level of care provided.

Theft of prescription painkillers, or “drug diversion” as it is commonly called, at nursing homes is a nationwide problem.  The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 regulates narcotic pain medication. Nursing homes must maintain a Controlled Substances Log pursuant to  21 U.S.C. 827(a).  A Controlled Substances Log is used to track every dose of pain medication by recording the date and time the pill was obtained by a nurse, the name of the resident receiving the medication, the name of the nurse receiving the medication, and the name of the subscriber.  Pain medication must be kept in a separately locked cabinet in a secure area of the nursing home.

This level of documentation does not however, ensure that the nurse actually gives the pain medication to the resident.  Many residents of nursing homes suffer from a degree of confusion or dementia.  It is a simple enough task for a nurse to provide the resident an over the counter pain reliever while pocketing the actual narcotic.  Of course, such a practice is a clear violation of the nursing standard of care and a violation of the nursing home resident’s rights.

The effect on the defrauded nursing home resident is more than just having to temporarily endure needless pain.  The sudden cessation of regularly taken pain medication can cause serious withdrawal symptoms.  Further, unaddressed chronic pain causes a host of other problems including: depression; interruption of sleep; impaired cognitive function; compromised cardiovascular health; and decreased quality of life.

If you are concerned that a loved one is not receiving his or her pain medication, there are steps you can take.  First, we recommend a meeting with the resident’s doctor, the nursing home’s director of nursing and the resident’s unit manager to discuss the issue.   Second, a urinalysis can be performed to determine the amount of pain medication the person has metabolized.  Lastly, we always recommend that anyone concerned about nursing home neglect or abuse contact Florida’s Department of Children and Families abuse hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE. Continue reading

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Under intense lobbying by the nursing home industry in 2001, the Florida legislature enacted legislation requiring a pre-suit investigative and notice period before a lawsuit could be filed seeking compensation for death or injury caused by nursing home neglect.  At first glance, the pre-suit requirements may have seemed like a good thing.

Before filing suit, a claimant must have the matter reviewed by a doctor or registered nurse expert.  If the expert comes to the conclusion that the nursing home did something wrong that caused harm to the resident, the case can progress.  After that, the parties are to engage in a 75 day period during which they are to exchange information.  Finally, the parties are required to mediate before suit can be filed.

The problem is that the statute provides no repercussions if a nursing home refuses to provide information and refuses to mediate – and, as a result, that is exactly what the nursing homes do.  In litigating nursing home injury and death claims for more than 10 years in Jacksonville, we have had only one nursing home willing to engage in the statutorily “required” pre-suit mediation.

The truth is that the pre-suit process provides no benefit whatsoever to injured residents.  Instead, it greatly increases the cost and length of time it takes to seek compensation.  Meanwhile, the nursing homes reap huge benefits from this process at no cost.

Florida Statute § 400.0233 requires that the claimant’s attorney conduct a good faith investigation.  To do so, the attorney must have the nursing home’s records for the client in question.  This is where the delay starts –  nursing homes are provided 30 “working days” to produce the records of a former resident.  Given weekends, this allows a nursing home approximately 40 days to simply make a copy of the records.

The lawyer must then review the records to determine what happened.  The records are not easy to read and typically involve hundreds of pages.  In short, the lawyer is working backwards to determine if the injury, illness or death could have been prevented.  To do so, we are scouring the record for signs and symptoms of the impending illness or incident along with any responses made by nursing home staff to prevent the injury or illness.

If the lawyer believes that the nursing home operator was neglectful or abusive, and, in so doing, caused serious harm or death, the statute requires the records be reviewed by a physician or registered nurse.  This is  expensive as a reviewing doctor or R.N. is going to charge expert witness fees on an hourly basis to review all of the pertinent records, typically including those from a receiving hospital.

If the expert comes to the conclusion that the nursing home was negligent or abusive, then a pre-suit notice must be sent by certified mail to every “prospective defendant.”  It can be difficult to determine who the prospective defendants are as nursing homes in Florida are typically operated by a maze of related limited liability companies.  This is purposefully done by nursing home operators in attempt to shield themselves from liability and to avoid transparency regarding their profits.

The statute allows for the parties to request documents and take statements from witnesses.   However, the nursing home operators refuse to comply with these requests.   They get away with this because Florida’s statutes on nursing home claims (unlike the medical malpractice statutes) provide no consequences for the nursing home’s refusal to comply with the statute.

After service of the pre-suit notice, nursing home operators have 75 days to review the claim.  At the end of this period, the operators, or their insurers, are supposed to provide a response either rejecting the claim or making a settlement offer.   The nursing homes almost never do  this as a failure to respond is considered the same as a rejection.

After the 75 day period expires, the statute requires that the parties mediate the case.   This provision is almost uniformly ignored by the nursing homes, and, again, it is because the statute provides no consequence for failing to do so.

In summary, throughout the entire statutory pre-suit process, the nursing home operators do essentially nothing and the injured victim spends an extraordinary amount of time and money for no reason.  The delay alone is a major injustice as victims of nursing home abuse and neglect tend to be elderly or infirm.  Further, after months of this needless delay, nursing home staff  members are no longer as able to recall all of the facts surrounding the resident’s situation.

All of the benefits supposedly provided by the statute – information sharing and an early mediation – are erased by a statute that contains no teeth.   It is time for the statute to be repealed. Continue reading

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The year on Jacksonville’s roadways has gotten off to a dangerous start.  To date this year, forty-nine people have died in traffic accidents in Jacksonville, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.  This is thirteen more deaths than the average for this point in the year and the trend only seems like it will continue.  In separate incidents, two pedestrians were struck yesterday, one of whom was a woman who was killed while trying to cross 103rd Street on Jacksonville’s westside.

Pedestrian traffic fatalities are on the rise.  According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, there have been an average of thirty-nine pedestrian deaths per year during the last five years and roughly one in four traffic deaths in the city involve a pedestrian.

Jacksonville is not known to be a particularly pedestrian friendly city.  In fact, for the year of 2016, Jacksonville was rated as the fourth worst city in the country for pedestrian danger according to the National Complete Streets Coalition.  Many busy roadways in Jacksonville have no sidewalks, many roads are poorly lit, busy intersections have no crosswalks, crosswalks that do exist often do no provide enough time for slower walkers to get across and pedestrians and drivers often fail to pay attention.

The Florida Highway Patrol has designated April as “Distracted Driving Awareness Month”; however, the blame does not rest solely on drivers.  Pedestrians are becoming increasingly distracted by cellphones as they walk.  Texting, social media and surfing the net all play a role in “distracted walking,” which can be deadly.

There are things pedestrians can do to avoid being involved in an accident with a vehicle, including:

-wear brightly colored clothing at night;

-carry a flashlight at night;

-do not step out from beside a parked car or hedge when crossing the street;

-cross only at designated crosswalks;

-look left, then right, then left again before crossing;

-do not allow yourself to be distracted when crossing;

-walk on sidewalks when available;

-even if you have a “walk” signal at a crosswalk, make sure that drivers are stopped or coming to a stop;

– do not wear headphones while crossing the roadway;

– do not walk near roadways while intoxicated; and

– if there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic.

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Early this morning, a female resident of a Jacksonville nursing home died after falling from her bed.  The incident occurred at the Woodland Grove Health and Rehabilitation Center near Belfort Road on Jacksonville’s Southside.  The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident as an accident.  Florida’s Agency of Healthcare Administration will also investigate the matter.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ranks all nursing homes that accept payment from Medicare on a scale of one to five stars.  Overall, Woodland Grove Health and Rehabilitation Center scores three out of five stars and scores a two out of five with respect to health inspections.   It is a 120 bed facility owned, in part, by Greystone Healthcare Holdings, which has 26 nursing homes in Florida, with one in Jacksonville, one in Fleming Island (Orange Park), two in Daytona Beach and one in Starke.

Falls are one of the leading causes of injury and death of nursing home residents.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a typical nursing home with 100 beds will report between 100 and 200 falls per year.  In addition, falls are often not reported.  Between 50% to 75% of nursing home residents will experience a fall each year.  Roughly 35% of falls in nursing homes involve residents who cannot walk.

Not only are falls common, the consequences can be catastrophic.  Annually, approximately 1,800 people die as a result of a fall in a nursing home.  Falls also cause serious life-changing injuries including arm, leg and hip fractures.  The immobility that results from such a fracture can lead to functional decline that greatly shortens a person’s lifespan and diminishes his or her quality of life.

Falls in nursing homes have a host of causes including muscle weakness, cognitive problems, changes in medication, wet floors, a nursing home’s failure to provide assistance when transferring from a bed to a wheelchair or toilet, incorrect bed height and improper or missing assistive devices.

There are many ways that nursing homes can reduce the risk of falls.  First and foremost, each resident must be screened for their fall risk.  Residents with an increased fall risk require care plans that put in place appropriate safeguards.  Some residents will require a one person or two person assistance with transfers to and from the bed and toilet.  Others require assistive devices when moving around such as a cane, walker or wheelchair.

The facility itself must also be scrutinized to make sure that hand rails are in place in bathrooms, floors are level and clean and that call buttons work.  Socks, slippers and shoes should have non-slip surfaces.  Beds should be lowered for persons will a high fall risk and cushioned mats should be placed around the bed to minimize any injury that may occur.  Bed rails or anti-roll cushions should be used for persons at risk for falling out of bed.  Residents should be educated regarding common scenarios that lead to falls and how to avoid them.  Finally, the residents should receive physical therapy and nutrition sufficient to keep them as strong and able as possible.
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A video of a resident on resident beating that lasted for over two minutes finally culminated in the state shutting down a beleaguered assisted living facility in Williston, Florida.  Williston is located about 20 miles southwest of Gainesville. The video shows an 86 year old man being punched more than 50 times by a 52 year old resident.  The 86 year old suffers from dementia.  The 52 year old has a history of mental illness and aggression.  During the beating, there were no staff members present in the common area where the incident occurred.  Furthermore, no one was assigned to monitor the surveillance camera that captured the incident.

Florida’s Agency for Heathcare Administration (“AHCA”), which regulates both nursing homes and assisted living facilities, sanctioned the Good Samaritan Retirement Home 17 times over the last 5 years and fined it in excess of $70,000.00.  Despite these measures, the assisted living facility remained in business.

One month after the beating, a female resident fell in the parking lot and was neither taken to the hospital nor provided any medical treatment.  Later that night, the woman was found non-responsive and blood-soaked.  She later died at the hospital.  After that incident, AHCA put in place a moratorium preventing the assisted living facility from accepting new residents; however, it was allowed to continue to operate with the residents already living there.

Two weeks later, another incident occurred which resulted in the arrest of an administrator at the assisted living facility. On December 7, one of the residents had a medical procedure and had to be closely monitored to watch for changes in condition.  Over the next few days, staff reported to the administrator that the resident had deteriorated; however, the administrator took no responsive action.  He was charged with neglect of the elderly.

Citing additional concerns and medication errors, AHCA finally shut down the facility effective December 23, seven weeks after the videotaped two minute beating occurred.  Residents and their families are understandably frustrated by the lack of a more timely response by the state.

The bottom line here is that you cannot rely on the state to vet a nursing home or assisted living facility for you.  If you or a loved one is in need of assisted living or a nursing home, it pays to do your own homework.  As a starter, for nursing homes, we recommend you review the five star rating system created by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Next, you should visit the nursing home or assisted living facility.  While there, you should do your best to observe whether: the facility is clean; whether the facility has an unpleasant odor; whether there are common areas that meet your needs; and whether the staff is qualified to meet your healthcare requirements.  Continue reading

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Recently, shocking video footage was captured at a South Florida nursing home showing a certified nursing assistant striking a resident, pouring mouthwash on him, pushing him and handling him very roughly.  The resident was ninety four years old and suffered from dementia.  The CNA involved claimed she knew nothing of the allegations – until the video surfaced.  Apparently, the resident’s family members were suspicious that he was being mistreated and hid the camera in his room.  Without the camera footage, the abuse would probably never have been proven.

It is common that family members of nursing home residents call us to express a concern that a resident is being abused or mistreated.  Without obvious signs of injury, abuse can be very hard to prove as some residents with dementia may be confused to the point of equating normal movement required for bathing and dressing as abuse.  With advances in technology, it is now economically possible for most people to purchase small video cameras that can be concealed in a room.  Consequently, we have seen a rise in hidden surveillance footage and it is certainly going to continue to increase.

Of course, the use of hidden surveillance cameras also raises ethical concerns.  While a resident certainly has the ability to use such a camera, when the camera is placed by a family member, what if the resident lacks the mental capacity to consent to being filmed?  Nothing in standard power of attorney or health care surrogacy documents addresses this issue.  We support the ethical use of surveillance cameras as one of many tools that can be used in an effort to ensure a resident is receiving safe and respectful care.

Some states have enacted legislation specifically allowing nursing home residents to install cameras, which means that a nursing home cannot remove, or refuse to admit, a resident on this basis.  Most states; however, have no laws addressing the issue.  Florida does not have such a law.  A nursing home industry group, the American Health Care Association, has fought legislation allowing for cameras as it claims that people placing the cameras are more interested in gathering evidence for a lawsuit than in protecting the resident.  They also claim that, with cameras in place, it will be more difficult to hire and keep qualified caregivers.

Our Jacksonville law firm focuses on nursing home neglect and abuse cases.  If you suspect nursing home abuse, we provide free no obligation consultations.  Often, we help guide family members dealing with the issue of whether to leave a resident in his or her current nursing home.  We frequently recommend that the family request a care plan meeting to be attended by the resident’s doctor, the nursing home’s director of nursing and the resident’s nurse unit manager.  When abuse, neglect or mistreatment is more certain, we recommend the resident be moved to a nursing home with strong ratings and we recommend the resident or the resident’s family members contact Florida’s Department of Children and Families abuse hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.  Nursing home ratings are published by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and can be found here.

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Yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed Florida’s longstanding legal principle that an insurer may have to pay as much as 2.5 times the usual attorney fee when a homeowner has to sue his or her own insurance company and wins.  The basis for this rule, called a “multiplier,” and its effect on homeowner’s claims is especially timely given the recency of Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma.

The case involved a St. Augustine couple who suffered water damage to their home and presented a claim against their homeowner’s insurer, Federated National Insurance Company.  The insurance company denied their claim based on its position that the homeowners failed to accurately list prior claims when they completed the application for insurance.  The homeowners retained an attorney on a contingency basis, meaning that the attorney agreed she would only get paid if she was successful.

After litigating the case for months, it was determined that the disputed prior claims were disclosed by the homeowners to Federated National, and, as a result, it agreed to pay the claim.  The homeowners’ attorney was to be paid a reasonable fee to be determined by the St. Augustine court pursuant to Florida Statute 427.428.  The judge determined that the attorney’s time at a customary hourly rate came to $38,150.00.  Then, the judge applied a “multiplier” of 2 and thus, doubled the fee to $76,300.00.  The insurance company appealed.

The use of fee multipliers in contingency cases has been part of Florida jurisprudence for decades.  The rationale for awarding a multiplier is to encourage attorneys to accept these types of cases on a contingency basis which provides access to the courts for people who cannot afford to hire an attorney.

From the attorney’s perspective, taking these cases on a contingency basis involves a big risk of time and money.  The attorney is not going to win every case.  As such, if the attorney is awarded only a normal hourly fee when he or she does win, then, with respect to the caseload as a whole (with some cases being lost), the attorney would be working for a less than a reasonable wage.  As a result, few, if any, qualified attorneys would agree to handle cases against insurance companies.

The multiplier can range from 1.1 to 2.5 depending on the likelihood of success at the outset.  A low multiplier is to be applied to cases where winning at the outset was likely – meaning that the attorney had a strong incentive to take the case.  The higher multipliers are to be applied where the likelihood of winning at the outset was low.

On appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal struck the multiplier portion of the attorney fee award citing federal law for the proposition that multipliers are to be applied only in “rare and exceptional circumstances.”  The Florida Supreme Court rejected this holding and explained that it never limited the application of multipliers to “rare” or “exceptional” circumstances.

In the wakes of Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, this is very good news for homeowners in the St. Augustine and Jacksonville areas.  For one, it makes insurance companies more likely to fairly evaluate claims at the start even before an attorney is hired.  This, of course, is because the insurer is aware that not adjusting the claim fairly could result in a significant financial loss if the homeowner later hires a lawyer to sue the insurance company.  Second, it helps homeowners hire an attorney without having to pay out-of-pocket, an important consideration as many of these homeowners are already financially distressed due to the costs associated with dealing with hurricane damage. Continue reading