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Court Refuses to Hold FPL Liable for Nursing Home Deaths


When hurricane Irma struck south Florida, many residents lost power. But the loss of power wasn’t just an inconvenience for some Florida residents—it was a matter of life and death. Those in many nursing homes, including one particular nursing home, were stuck inside the home, in sweltering, oppressive Florida summer heat.

Tragedy in a Nursing Home

First responders came to the home, to treat many residents that were suffering from heat exhaustion. Cell phone video showed residents lying naked on beds to keep cool, and residents trying to keep cool with only slightly cracked open windows. Some residents went into cardiac distress.

After eight deaths, lawsuits were filed. The residents first turned to the nursing home, asking why the home didn’t do more, after the storm, to protect the residents. The home responded by saying that they contacted Florida Power and Light (FPL), begging for power to get turned back on (the nursing home was across the street from a hospital, which did not lose power).

The home maintained that their requests were put off by FPL, and repairs continually delayed. The home even said they had called the governor’s office for help getting the power back on, but none of it did any good. In the end, eight residents died.

FPL Gets Sued

Eventually, FPL was sued, for its failure to get the power back on in a timely manner, despite knowing how dire the situation was. In June of this year that lawsuit failed.

The Court asked whether FPL’s actions create a “zone of risk” that poses a harm to others. But there is no law saying that providing power automatically means that FPL is assuming the safety of others, or that it is accepting the obligation to protect every single person or business that gets power in their facility.

Undertaker Doctrine 

The residents also argued that the undertaker doctrine would make FPL liable. This is a legal doctrine that says that if someone undertakes a duty to provide a service, that service must be taken competently and safely. But here, FPL had no contract with any of the residents, and it never agreed with anyone, resident or not, to immediately turn power back on.

The court also cited a public policy reason for not finding FPL liable. The court noted that doing so would make FPL liable for every single injury that occurs anywhere there is a power outage that is not fixed in a timely manner. For a jury to evaluate whether FPL is operating properly, would take away that power from the State.

The Tampa personal injury attorneys at Barbas, Nuñez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian can answer your questions if you are in an accident. Call us today to discuss obtaining damages after any type of accident. Schedule a consultation today.


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