Miami, FL – June 21, 2011 – As revealed by a groundbreaking investigative report published by The Miami Herald in May, Florida’s assisted living facilities (ALFs) have seen scores — and perhaps hundreds — of deaths under questionable circumstances. The newspaper obtained the confidential records of 70 people who died in the past eight years due to the actions of their caregivers — and provided horrific details for some of these cases. But while uncovering egregious negligence within the Florida ALF community is to be commended, much more needs to be done, says Miami injury lawyer and victims rights advocate Philip M. Gerson. The lightly regulated industry, he warns, has become a recipe for disaster — and needless death.
“What the Herald article showed is something that injury lawyers and advocates for crime victims have known for a long time, that the ALF system is broken and dangerous in Florida,” says Gerson, who was interviewed by the Herald’s Michael Sallah as the story took form. “There is minimal regulation of ALFs and the state lacks the resources to enforce what rules do exist. That’s a deadly combination, as horror after horror exposed by the Herald — incapacitated patients not given necessary medicine, elderly residents not provided medical care after falls, mysteriously bruised and battered victims — made all too clear. Most of these cases were never prosecuted because Florida just doesn’t have the resources to police what is clearly an area that urgently needs to be policed.”
While tougher rules, stricter enforcement, and more investigators would be welcome, says Gerson, budget pressures and an administration that favors less regulation, not more, make those solutions difficult. “The politics of Florida see the state taking the ‘deregulate everything’ approach,” says Gerson, who has represented injury victims for more than 40 years, and is a board member of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Indeed, given how he sees the current political climate in Florida, Gerson believes the best hope for exposing egregious ALF negligence — and helping to prevent future instances of it — lay in civil lawsuits, where victims of ALF abuse, or their families, take the facilities to court to account for their actions. “The reality is that state agencies and the criminal justice system lack the resources to investigate and prosecute the people causing the harm,” says Gerson. “So private rights of enforcement — filing a civil lawsuit and taking an ALF to court — is the only way to let the industry know that they can’t neglect the people entrusted to their care, and that they’re going to pay a price if they do.”
Gerson says simple regulatory steps could make a big difference, too, such as requiring ALFs to carry liability insurance. “It would add to the cost of running an ALF,” he notes, “but it would also mean insurance companies would be vetting these facilities and overseeing what they are doing, as they don’t want to be on the hook for needless injuries and death. If an ALF is not qualified, it wouldn’t be able to get insurance — and then it wouldn’t be in business.”
But with even simple regulatory enhancements uncertain in Florida today, Gerson isn’t holding out much hope for them. “In the end,” says the Miami injury lawyer, “it is going to come down to civil lawsuits and the crime victims themselves to show that we’ve seen enough negligence and harm in Florida ALFs — and we’re not going to see anymore.”
Founded in 1970 by Miami personal injury lawyer Philip M. Gerson, the law firm of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A., has spent the past four decades protecting, and vindicating, the rights of individuals who have suffered serious harm — from automobile accidents to medical malpractice to cruise ship injuries. In the process, the firm has become recognized as “Top Lawyers” by the South Florida Business Review, and recognized widely for its work with public interest groups like the International Cruise Victims Association and the National Center for Victims of Crime. To learn more about the trial lawyers of Gerson & Schwartz, visit www.injuryattorneyfla.com.