Defendants who can be named in lawsuits against nursing homes in Florida would be limited under a bill that moved this week through the House Civil Justice Committee.
Developers, silent partners and other parties that could be unconnected to accused nursing facilities would be protected from becoming defendants in lawsuits filed against nursing homes for such causes as negligence or other mistreatment under the proposed legislation.
The measure targets one firm and one lawyer, Tampa firebrand James Wilkes, whose firm, Wilkes & McHugh, has been successful representing litigants in multimillion-dolllar actions against nursing homes and other assisted living facilities.
“What this does is isolate one renegade law firm – Wilkes,” Emmett Reed, executive director of the Florida Health Care Association, said in an interview. Reed’s group represents the majority of skilled nursing facilities in the state.
Wilkes said he is being targeted because he has figured out a confusing maze of nursing home management and ownership that can lead to deep pockets.
“This bill is not about lawsuits, this is because I spent the time to figure out who these people were behind these homes and they are angry,” Wilkes said in an interview. “The only connection to me is that I caught them. What we need is more transparency. Some of these homes, the corporations who run them, ask for anonymity but they are actually government contractors.”
Representing Wilkes & McHugh at the hearing, where the legislation passed 10-3, lobbyist Brecht Heuchan told the members of the justice committee that “these passive investors are the only people making money .”
Heuchan read from financial newsletters citing the above average returns that management and investment firms and operators of nursing homes have made in recent years.
Committee member Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, asked Heuchan for an example of someone who might be considered connected to a nursing home or corporation that owns a home who would be off limits to litigation.
“A stockholder,” Heuchan said. Young, an attorney, supported the bill.
The bill, which still faces consideration in another House committee, also would require plaintiffs to get court permission to add what might be considered extraneous parties to any legal action.