Florida Judge Sides With Family of Florida Publix Employee Who Died of COVID-19

Attorney George F. Indest IIIBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On February 5, 2021, a judge in Florida refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of a Publix Super Markets deli worker who died after allegedly catching COVID-19 from a coworker. Judge Carlos Lopez announced that he would not dismiss the lawsuit filed by Gerardo Gutierrez’s family, who died on April 28, 2020, from complications caused by coronavirus. The suit was filed in the Florida Circuit Court for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Miami-Dade County, Florida, in November 2020.

Publix Accused of Failing Its Workers & the Miami Beach Community.

The suit alleged that on March 27 and 28, 2020, 70-year-old deli worker Gerardo “Gerry” Gutierrez worked at a Publix supermarket alongside a coworker who showed signs of COVID-19. Unfortunately, at that time, according to the complaint, Publix had made a decision to prohibit its employees from wearing masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

On April 2, Gutierrez was told by his supervisors to isolate at home; but by April 7, he tested positive for Covid-19, the complaint says. He died on April 28, 2020.

The family says in its complaint that Publix, a Florida-based grocery store chain, breached its duty to keep its employees safe. It knowingly failed to take proper precautions and prohibited its workers from wearing masks for fear it would “incite panic” among customers, claims the suit. The lawsuit echoes findings from an earlier Tampa Bay Times report that took the position that Publix lagged behind competitors in adopting employee and customer safety protections (such as employee PPE) during the early days of the pandemic.
Click here to learn more.

Additionally, the suit also references several Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaints, where employees repeatedly reported the grocer prohibited mask and glove use.

To view the family’s complaint, click here.

Publix Defends Itself.

In response to the lawsuit, Publix filed a motion to dismiss, calling the suit an attempt to circumvent the worker’s compensation process. Publix also argued that the claims in the case needed to be filed in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. The worker’s compensation system in Florida requires that employees of a corporation must file workers compensation claims for injuries sustained on the job. Civil litigation is prohibited against the employer, with a number of exceptions. The judge in the civil case disagreed with Publix, ruling in favor of the estate of the worker.

According to the complaint, it wasn’t until March 2020, after the realization set in that the spread of COVID-19 presented a major national crisis for Publix to post a statement on its website. In the statement, Publix CEO Todd Jones said the company had remained in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and would “continue to focus on keeping [its] associates [employees] healthy—and [its] stores open and stocked—to serve and support all our communities.”

Click here to read the statement in full.

Despite the arguments, the family’s attorney Michael Levine said, “Publix has never taken any responsibility for its unthinkable decision to prohibit its employees from wearing masks as COVID-19 swept through Florida. Our case will make sure Publix is held accountable for its reckless decision. We look forward to uncovering the documents behind the mask prohibition and deposing its senior personnel.”

One problem that we see with this case is that many Publix employees work part-time. We had one working for our law firm, for example. By not allowing employees to wear proper PPE, and not requiring them to abide by other protective measures, the employer caused a far wider exposure of others, even many non-customers, and their families, to the COVID virus.

The case is Gutierrez v. Publix Super Markets Inc., case number 2020-025168-CA-01, and you can read the judge’s order in full here.

Read one of my prior blogs about OSHA previously handing out citations for COVID-19 PPE violations.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Bolado, Carolina. “Fla. Judge Won’t Ax Suit Over Publix Worker’s COVID-19 Death.” Law360. (February 5, 2021). Web.

Toropin, Konstantin. “Family files suit over Publix employee’s death. It says company failed to protect him from Covid-19.” CNN. (November 23, 2020). Web.

DiNatale, Sara. “A Publix employee died from COVID-19. Now his family is suing over his death.” Tampa Bay Times. (November 23, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Court Sides With University of Miami, Rules It’s Immune to Medical Malpractice Suit

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On October 28, 2020, a Florida appeals court tossed out a medical malpractice suit accusing a University of Miami doctor of providing negligent treatment at a public teaching hospital. A panel of the Florida Third District Court of Appeal upheld a circuit judge’s ruling that the university is protected by sovereign immunity when faculty members provide care at Jackson Memorial Hospital, a teaching hospital.


Background of the Suit.

The ruling arose out of a case in which a University of Miami physician provided treatment in 2013 to a patient at Jackson Memorial. A medical malpractice lawsuit was filed against parties including Jackson Memorial, the university, and the physician. The suit alleged that a failure to provide anticoagulants resulted in disabilities.

Jackson Memorial Hospital is owned and operated by Miami-Dade County through the Public Health Trust. It is supported by Miami-Dade County residents through a portion of the county’s sales tax. Because of this, it is considered to be the same as a state agency, and its employees have the same sovereign immunity as state employees do.

The judge dismissed the suit against the doctor, saying that because the doctor provided services at the public teaching hospital, pursuant to the University’s agreement with Jackson Memorial, he should be considered an agent of the hospital. Therefore, he is entitled to sovereign immunity.

Pointing to state law and an agreement with Jackson Memorial, the university also argued that it was shielded by immunity from liability. The university claimed it was entitled to immunity under Sections 768.28(9)(a) and (10)(f), Florida Statutes. Since any liability the university had would be vicarious liability based on the alleged negligence of the physician, if the physician was determined to be immune, the university would have the same defense.

Additionally, Section 768.28, Florida Statutes, was amended by the Florida Legislature in 2011 to cover nonprofit independent universities that provide patient care at government-owned teaching hospitals. The same year, Jackson Memorial and Miami University amended the terms of their agreement to incorporate the amended sovereign immunity statute, according to the judge’s opinion in the case.

The Trial Court’s Ruling.

The appellate court panel agreed with the circuit judge, saying it was undisputed that the doctor was a University of Miami faculty member and employee at the time of the treatment. Additionally, the agreement between Jackson Memorial and the University of Miami was properly redrafted in 2011 to reflect the amendment to the statute. “Under the terms of the 2011 agreement and section 768.28, Florida Statutes, the university is immune from suit here because the physician treated the patient while acting as Jackson’s statutory agent,” the appellate panel said in the opinion.

Click here to read the court’s opinion in full.

Contact Health Attorneys Experienced in Health Law and Employment Law.

The Health Law Firm represents both employers and employees in the health care industry in prosecuting and in defending complex civil litigation in state and federal courts. Our attorneys represent individuals and institutions in litigation, civil or administrative, state or federal.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

“State Appeals Court: University Of Miami Shielded From Medical Malpractice Lawsuit.” Miami CBS Local. (October 28, 2020). Web.

Kang, Peter. “Fla. Court Says Univ. Of Miami Immune To Med Mal Suit.” Law360. (October 28, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Former Kaiser Permanente Employee Files ADA Suit, Claims Disability Discrimination

George Indest Headshot

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On November 4, 2020, a former employee of Kaiser Permanente Insurance filed a class-action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, claiming discrimination. She says the company required her to take a “competency test” to determine if she could keep her job after the Atlanta business learned of her medical disability (anxiety and depression). The suit claims that the insurance company refused to accommodate her disability and fired her after she failed.

Alleged Disability Discrimination.

The plaintiff worked for Kaiser Permanente Georgia Region between October 2010 and August 2020. According to the lawsuit that was filed, she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2018 and in May 2019 but was cleared by her physician to work. According to the suit, Kaiser Permanente singled her out, forced her to disclose her anxiety and depression, and required her to take a “competency test” for a job she already held. It is worth noting that mental conditions such as “anxiety and depression,” are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In March 2019, the plaintiff requested a reasonable accommodation—i.e., a postponement of the testing until she was mentally stable enough to sit for the test. She claims her request was denied outright by Kaiser despite its knowledge of her disability. Per the complaint, the plaintiff was told that she had failed the competency test, despite never having received her scores. In August 2019, she was retested and Kaiser told her that she failed.

On November 8, 2019, the employee was terminated because she “no longer met the job requirements and was not successful at passing the second attempt of the competency test,” the complaint said.

Failure to Accommodate Under the ADA.

The former employee alleged disability discrimination, unlawful medical requests, and failure to accommodate her disabilities under the ADA. She’s seeking unspecified damages for loss of past and future income, mental anguish, and emotional distress, along with her court costs and attorney fees.

Click here to read the complaint in full.

For more information, read our prior blog on a similar case dealing with an insurance company that was sued for mental health discrimination.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At The Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes nurses, resident physicians, mental health counselors, social workers, pharmacists, and health facilities. It also includes medical students, medical school professors, and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com

Sources:

Konnath, Hailey. “Kaiser Permanente Hit With ADA Suit Over Competency Tests.” Law360. (November 4, 2020). Web.

Shaak, Erin. “Singled Out: Lawsuit Claims Kaiser Permanente Denied ‘Competency Test’ Accommodation for Ex-Employee with Disability.” Newswire. (November 5, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law

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Judge Won’t Toss Lawsuit Filed By Family of Florida Publix Employee Who Died of COVID-19

Attorney George F. Indest IIIBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On February 5, 2021, a judge in Florida refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of a Publix Super Markets deli worker who died after allegedly catching COVID-19 from a coworker. Judge Carlos Lopez announced that he would not dismiss the lawsuit filed by Gerardo Gutierrez’s family, who died on April 28, 2020, from complications caused by coronavirus. The suit was filed in the Florida Circuit Court for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Miami-Dade County, Florida, in November 2020.

Publix Accused of Failing Its Workers & the Miami Beach Community.

The suit alleged that on March 27 and 28, 2020, 70-year-old deli worker Gerardo “Gerry” Gutierrez worked at a Publix supermarket alongside a coworker who showed signs of COVID-19. Unfortunately, at that time, according to the complaint, Publix had made a decision to prohibit its employees from wearing masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

On April 2, Gutierrez was told by his supervisors to isolate at home; but by April 7, he tested positive for Covid-19, the complaint says. He died on April 28, 2020.

The family says in its complaint that Publix, a Florida-based grocery store chain, breached its duty to keep its employees safe. It knowingly failed to take proper precautions and prohibited its workers from wearing masks for fear it would “incite panic” among customers, claims the suit. The lawsuit echoes findings from an earlier Tampa Bay Times report that took the position that Publix lagged behind competitors in adopting employee and customer safety protections (such as employee PPE) during the early days of the pandemic.
Click here to learn more.

Additionally, the suit also references several Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaints, where employees repeatedly reported the grocer prohibited mask and glove use.

To view the family’s complaint, click here.

Publix Defends Itself.

In response to the lawsuit, Publix filed a motion to dismiss, calling the suit an attempt to circumvent the worker’s compensation process. Publix also argued that the claims in the case needed to be filed in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. The worker’s compensation system in Florida requires that employees of a corporation must file workers compensation claims for injuries sustained on the job. Civil litigation is prohibited against the employer, with a number of exceptions. The judge in the civil case disagreed with Publix, ruling in favor of the estate of the worker.

According to the complaint, it wasn’t until March 2020, after the realization set in that the spread of COVID-19 presented a major national crisis for Publix to post a statement on its website. In the statement, Publix CEO Todd Jones said the company had remained in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and would “continue to focus on keeping [its] associates [employees] healthy—and [its] stores open and stocked—to serve and support all our communities.”

Click here to read the statement in full.

Despite the arguments, the family’s attorney Michael Levine said, “Publix has never taken any responsibility for its unthinkable decision to prohibit its employees from wearing masks as COVID-19 swept through Florida. Our case will make sure Publix is held accountable for its reckless decision. We look forward to uncovering the documents behind the mask prohibition and deposing its senior personnel.”

One problem that we see with this case is that many Publix employees work part-time. We had one working for our law firm, for example. By not allowing employees to wear proper PPE, and not requiring them to abide by other protective measures, the employer caused a far wider exposure of others, even many non-customers, and their families, to the COVID virus.

The case is Gutierrez v. Publix Super Markets Inc., case number 2020-025168-CA-01, and you can read the judge’s order in full here.

Read one of my prior blogs about OSHA previously handing out citations for COVID-19 PPE violations.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Bolado, Carolina. “Fla. Judge Won’t Ax Suit Over Publix Worker’s COVID-19 Death.” Law360. (February 5, 2021). Web.

Toropin, Konstantin. “Family files suit over Publix employee’s death. It says company failed to protect him from Covid-19.” CNN. (November 23, 2020). Web.

DiNatale, Sara. “A Publix employee died from COVID-19. Now his family is suing over his death.” Tampa Bay Times. (November 23, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Federal Judge Tells Florida Pediatric Group It Must Face Nurse’s EEOC Suit

Attorney George F. Indest III By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On November 4, 2020, a Florida federal court judge ruled that a Tampa-based pediatric medical group cannot escape a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit, denying its attempts to dismiss the case. According to the federal agency, Pediatric Health Care Alliance unlawfully retaliated against a nurse after the nurse reported a doctor for sexual harassment. U.S. District Judge Thomas Barber denied the medical group’s motion to dismiss, saying it neglected to confront or defend against the nurse’s claim that the medical group demoted her as punishment.

The EEOC Complaint: Nurse Forced to Quit After Reporting Sexual Harassment.

On June 22, 2020, the EEOC filed an employment lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. According to the complaint, a female nurse at Pediatric Alliance reported that a doctor at the company inappropriately touched her on two different occasions. Notably, that doctor was also the Vice President (VP) of the company.

According to the suit, the nurse suffered almost immediate retaliation for filing the complaint against the VP. The EEOC alleges that Pediatric Alliance transferred her to a different location against her wishes, replaced her nursing duties with administrative ones, and docked her pay. As a direct consequence of the retaliation, the EEOC contends that the long-time employee was, in effect, forced to resign.

To read the EEOC’s press release on the lawsuit, click here.

To read the EEOC’s lawsuit, in this case, click here.

Retaliation for filing A Sexual Harassment Complaint is Unlawful, Even if it Later Turns Out the Complaint Wasn’t Valid: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Under federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), employees have a legal right to raise workplace discrimination or harassment complaints. If an employee exercises this right, their company or organization is strictly prohibited from retaliating against them for doing so. Employers cannot take adverse employment action against an employee in retaliation for making a formal or informal complaint of harassment.

Adverse action occurs when an employee is penalized or punished in some form. In this case, transferring the nurse to a less desirable location, reducing salary, and taking away job duties are all examples of adverse action.

Analysis of the Ruling.

In this case, the defendant’s medical group/employer tried to get the court to dismiss the lawsuit (complaint) based on the EEOC’s earlier determination that the nurse failed to sufficiently support charges of sexual harassment. If the employer had not retaliated against the nurse, in this case, would have then been over. But that didn’t happen. The complaint asserted a claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII, not sexual harassment.

The court also noted that the medical group did not argue that the EEOC’s retaliation allegation was insufficient. Accordingly, the judge denied the motion to dismiss filed by Pediatric Alliance, the employer.

To view the court’s opinion in full, click here.

Tips for Employers to Avoid EEOC Complaints.

1. The employer should adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination and harassment.

2. Make sure your officers, supervisors, and key employees are instructed on a regular basis about what situations are considered sexual harassment or discrimination.

3. Make sure your officers, supervisors, and key employees sign a statement each year, stating that they are aware of the company’s “zero tolerance” policy and what constitutes harassment and discrimination.

4. Establish a method by which employees can submit reports of harassment and discrimination without the perpetrator becoming aware of it. This should be part of the employer’s compliance program.

5. Be sure your company or group has a good directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance and excess liability insurance policy that covers sexual harassment and discrimination claims.

6. Include an indemnification clause in the contracts of officers, supervisors, and key employees, requiring them to indemnify the employer in any case where the employer is held liable for acts of sexual harassment or discrimination.

7. Be sure that an employee who files a complaint does not have adverse employment action taken against him or her, especially based solely upon the word of the person against whom the complaint was filed. Bring a human relations expert in as early as possible to consult on the case, as well as an employment law defense attorney.

8. Make sure that all employees, including officers, supervisors, and key personnel, receive training once a year on avoiding sexual harassment and discrimination and document it in their personnel/human resources file. Hiring an outside trainer can make this less burdensome and more enjoyable. Again, this should be part of the employer’s compliance plan.

 

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late, Talk to an Experienced Attorney Now.

Florida workers have a right to report sexual harassment or discrimination without facing retribution, but workers often file complaints that are not valid. The EEOC advances opportunities in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Find out how The Health Law Firm can help if you are an employer that finds itself in this legal situation.

Additionally, please read one of our recent blogs dealing with a similar EEOC lawsuit.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses and Other Healthcare Professionals.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely provide legal representation to nurses, physicians, medical groups, pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, and other health providers. We provide legal representation for employers in EEOC complaints, workplace discrimination complaints, and suits involving harassment or discrimination complaints. We also provide legal representation in Department of Health, Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing investigations and complaints, DORA investigations and complaints. We provide litigation services in state and federal courts and state and federal administrative hearings. We provide legal representation across the U.S., not just in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Shanes, Alexis. “Fla. Pediatric Group Can’t Dodge EEOC Retaliation Suit.” Law360. (November 4, 2020). Web.

“EEOC Sues Pediatric Health Care Alliance for Retaliation Over Harassment Complaints.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (June 22, 2020). Web.

Bean, Mackenzie. “Florida practice retaliated against nurse for reporting harassment, EEOC says.” Becker’s Hospital Review. (November 9, 2020). Web.

 

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714. Call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free at (888) 331-6620.

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law

 

 

Judge Sides With AdventHealth, Allows Fraud Claims Over $57.5 Million PPE Deal to Move Forward

Headshot of attorney George IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On February 23, 2021, a federal court in Orlando, Florida, ruled that Adventist Health System Sunbelt (now known as AdventHealth, and which owns Florida Hospital, among others) could pursue claims it has over a bad $57.5 million deal to buy personal protective equipment (PPE). The defendants whom the hospital system is suing include Tomax Capital Management, Inc. (“Tomax”), a California corporation; a California attorney and his law firm; and others.

U.S. District Judge Paul G. Byron said the hospital system provided sufficient evidence that Tomax failed to deliver the promised PPE and then conspired to keep the $2 million which was not returned.

The PPE Contract.

According to the complaint in the case, the contract was for AdventHealth to purchase 10 million 3M N95 ventilator masks, according to the May 2020 complaint. Under the terms of the contract, the hospital was to pay a total of $57.5 million for 10 million 3M N95 masks to protect its workers during the Coronavirus pandemic. AdventHealth paid the $57.5 million into a California lawyer’s trust account. The 10 million masks were to be delivered to AdventHealth’s hospital in Orlando, Florida, by April 18, 2020. However, the masks never arrived.

Now, I just have to jump in and point out something. I don’t claim to have ironclad proof of it, but I have seen and read enough about 3M N95 masks on television and in the press while trying to purchase my own. I may be totally off on this figure, but I seem to remember around the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic that 3M was only manufacturing approximately 1 million masks a month. So where someone would be able to come up with 10 million of these specific masks is mind-boggling to me. Let’s just say that this is my own opinion.

When the hospital system requested a refund of the $57.5 million it had paid, it claims it was only refunded $55.5 million, with $2 million missing in action. According to the complaint, AdventHealth never saw the remaining $2 million despite assurance from the attorneys involved in the deal that AdventHealth would get it back. Hence, the present lawsuit.

I mean, if you can’t trust an attorney nowadays, who can ya’ trust?

A Civil Conspiracy?

In its suit, AdventHealth makes various claims of breach of contract, conversion, and civil conspiracy and requests actual damages, punitive damages, and prejudgment interest. The conspiracy would involve the allegation that the attorney and law firm conspired with Tomax and others to deprive AdventHealth of the $2 million. Because AdventHealth alleged that it suffered damages in Florida, it was able to bring its case to the federal court here in Orlando.

Read the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida for more details.

Granted, $2 million isn’t a lot of money to some people, but it was obviously enough money to get these Defendants sued in federal court.

Judge Sides With the Hospital System’s Position on Motion to Dismiss Complaint.

The federal court judge denied a motion to dismiss the complaint filed by Tomax. In his order, the judge stated: “Plaintiff sufficiently pleads facts supporting the existence of a civil conspiracy that caused injury in Florida.” In addition to allowing the claims of the hospital system to move forward, the judge also ruled that the court has the authority to exercise personal jurisdiction over the attorney and law firm that was involved, under the state’s long-arm statute. To obtain more details, read the judge’s order denying the motion to dismiss.  Click here to visit our Areas of Practice page and learn more on how The Health Law Firm can assist you in legal cases like this.

PPE a “Hot Issue.”

In another recent pandemic-related case, OSHA began issuing fines to health care systems over PPE violations such as lack of proper equipment for their employees. We have also read a number of reports about companies and individuals being fined and injunctions being obtained by the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration over phony PPE being sold to Americans over the Internet.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation in state and federal courts.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com

Sources:

Hale, Nathan. “AdventHealth’s Fraud Claim Over $57M PPE Deal Advanced.” Law360. (February 23, 2021). Web.

Bolado, Carolina. “AdventHealth Sues Attorney Over Failed $57.5M Masks Deal.” Law360. (May 29, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Court Agrees With University of Miami, Tosses Medical Malpractice Suit

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On October 28, 2020, a Florida appeals court tossed out a medical malpractice suit accusing a University of Miami doctor of providing negligent treatment at a public teaching hospital. A panel of the Florida Third District Court of Appeal upheld a circuit judge’s ruling that the university is protected by sovereign immunity when faculty members provide care at Jackson Memorial Hospital, a teaching hospital.


Background of the Suit.

The ruling arose out of a case in which a University of Miami physician provided treatment in 2013 to a patient at Jackson Memorial. A medical malpractice lawsuit was filed against parties including Jackson Memorial, the university, and the physician. The suit alleged that a failure to provide anticoagulants resulted in disabilities.

Jackson Memorial Hospital is owned and operated by Miami-Dade County through the Public Health Trust. It is supported by Miami-Dade County residents through a portion of the county’s sales tax. Because of this, it is considered to be the same as a state agency, and its employees have the same sovereign immunity as state employees do.

The judge dismissed the suit against the doctor, saying that because the doctor provided services at the public teaching hospital, pursuant to the University’s agreement with Jackson Memorial, he should be considered an agent of the hospital. Therefore, he is entitled to sovereign immunity.

Pointing to state law and an agreement with Jackson Memorial, the university also argued that it was shielded by immunity from liability. The university claimed it was entitled to immunity under Sections 768.28(9)(a) and (10)(f), Florida Statutes. Since any liability the university had would be vicarious liability based on the alleged negligence of the physician, if the physician was determined to be immune, the university would have the same defense.

Additionally, Section 768.28, Florida Statutes, was amended by the Florida Legislature in 2011 to cover nonprofit independent universities that provide patient care at government-owned teaching hospitals. The same year, Jackson Memorial and Miami University amended the terms of their agreement to incorporate the amended sovereign immunity statute, according to the judge’s opinion in the case.

The Trial Court’s Ruling.

The appellate court panel agreed with the circuit judge, saying it was undisputed that the doctor was a University of Miami faculty member and employee at the time of the treatment. Additionally, the agreement between Jackson Memorial and the University of Miami was properly redrafted in 2011 to reflect the amendment to the statute. “Under the terms of the 2011 agreement and section 768.28, Florida Statutes, the university is immune from suit here because the physician treated the patient while acting as Jackson’s statutory agent,” the appellate panel said in the opinion.

Click here to read the court’s opinion in full.

Contact Health Attorneys Experienced in Health Law and Employment Law.

The Health Law Firm represents both employers and employees in the health care industry in prosecuting and in defending complex civil litigation in state and federal courts. Our attorneys represent individuals and institutions in litigation, civil or administrative, state or federal.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

“State Appeals Court: University Of Miami Shielded From Medical Malpractice Lawsuit.” Miami CBS Local. (October 28, 2020). Web.

Kang, Peter. “Fla. Court Says Univ. Of Miami Immune To Med Mal Suit.” Law360. (October 28, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Ex-Kaiser Permanente Employee Files ADA Suit, Claims Disability Discrimination

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By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On November 4, 2020, a former employee of Kaiser Permanente Insurance filed a class-action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, claiming discrimination. She says the company required her to take a “competency test” to determine if she could keep her job after the Atlanta business learned of her medical disability (anxiety and depression). The suit claims that the insurance company refused to accommodate her disability and fired her after she failed.

Alleged Disability Discrimination.

The plaintiff worked for Kaiser Permanente Georgia Region between October 2010 and August 2020. According to the lawsuit that was filed, she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2018 and in May 2019 but was cleared by her physician to work. According to the suit, Kaiser Permanente singled her out, forced her to disclose her anxiety and depression, and required her to take a “competency test” for a job she already held. It is worth noting that mental conditions such as “anxiety and depression,” are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In March 2019, the plaintiff requested a reasonable accommodation—i.e., a postponement of the testing until she was mentally stable enough to sit for the test. She claims her request was denied outright by Kaiser despite its knowledge of her disability. Per the complaint, the plaintiff was told that she had failed the competency test, despite never having received her scores. In August 2019, she was retested and Kaiser told her that she failed.

On November 8, 2019, the employee was terminated because she “no longer met the job requirements and was not successful at passing the second attempt of the competency test,” the complaint said.

Failure to Accommodate Under the ADA.

The former employee alleged disability discrimination, unlawful medical requests, and failure to accommodate her disabilities under the ADA. She’s seeking unspecified damages for loss of past and future income, mental anguish, and emotional distress, along with her court costs and attorney fees.

Click here to read the complaint in full.

For more information, read our prior blog on a similar case dealing with an insurance company that was sued for mental health discrimination.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At The Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes nurses, resident physicians, mental health counselors, social workers, pharmacists, and health facilities. It also includes medical students, medical school professors, and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com

Sources:

Konnath, Hailey. “Kaiser Permanente Hit With ADA Suit Over Competency Tests.” Law360. (November 4, 2020). Web.

Shaak, Erin. “Singled Out: Lawsuit Claims Kaiser Permanente Denied ‘Competency Test’ Accommodation for Ex-Employee with Disability.” Newswire. (November 5, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law

By |2021-02-24T12:34:11-05:00April 27th, 2021|Categories: Health Facilities Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Florida Judge Won’t Toss Lawsuit Filed By Family of Publix Employee Who Died of Coronavirus

Attorney George F. Indest IIIBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On February 5, 2021, a judge in Florida refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of a Publix Super Markets deli worker who died after allegedly catching COVID-19 from a coworker. Judge Carlos Lopez announced that he would not dismiss the lawsuit filed by Gerardo Gutierrez’s family, who died on April 28, 2020, from complications caused by coronavirus. The suit was filed in the Florida Circuit Court for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Miami-Dade County, Florida, in November 2020.

Publix Accused of Failing Its Workers & the Miami Beach Community.

The suit alleged that on March 27 and 28, 2020, 70-year-old deli worker Gerardo “Gerry” Gutierrez worked at a Publix supermarket alongside a coworker who showed signs of COVID-19. Unfortunately, at that time, according to the complaint, Publix had made a decision to prohibit its employees from wearing masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

On April 2, Gutierrez was told by his supervisors to isolate at home; but by April 7, he tested positive for Covid-19, the complaint says. He died on April 28, 2020.

The family says in its complaint that Publix, a Florida-based grocery store chain, breached its duty to keep its employees safe. It knowingly failed to take proper precautions and prohibited its workers from wearing masks for fear it would “incite panic” among customers, claims the suit. The lawsuit echoes findings from an earlier Tampa Bay Times report that took the position that Publix lagged behind competitors in adopting employee and customer safety protections (such as employee PPE) during the early days of the pandemic.
Click here to learn more.

Additionally, the suit also references several Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaints, where employees repeatedly reported the grocer prohibited mask and glove use.

To view the family’s complaint, click here.

Publix Defends Itself.

In response to the lawsuit, Publix filed a motion to dismiss, calling the suit an attempt to circumvent the worker’s compensation process. Publix also argued that the claims in the case needed to be filed in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. The worker’s compensation system in Florida requires that employees of a corporation must file workers compensation claims for injuries sustained on the job. Civil litigation is prohibited against the employer, with a number of exceptions. The judge in the civil case disagreed with Publix, ruling in favor of the estate of the worker.

According to the complaint, it wasn’t until March 2020, after the realization set in that the spread of COVID-19 presented a major national crisis for Publix to post a statement on its website. In the statement, Publix CEO Todd Jones said the company had remained in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and would “continue to focus on keeping [its] associates [employees] healthy—and [its] stores open and stocked—to serve and support all our communities.”

Click here to read the statement in full.

Despite the arguments, the family’s attorney Michael Levine said, “Publix has never taken any responsibility for its unthinkable decision to prohibit its employees from wearing masks as COVID-19 swept through Florida. Our case will make sure Publix is held accountable for its reckless decision. We look forward to uncovering the documents behind the mask prohibition and deposing its senior personnel.”

One problem that we see with this case is that many Publix employees work part-time. We had one working for our law firm, for example. By not allowing employees to wear proper PPE, and not requiring them to abide by other protective measures, the employer caused a far wider exposure of others, even many non-customers, and their families, to the COVID virus.

The case is Gutierrez v. Publix Super Markets Inc., case number 2020-025168-CA-01, and you can read the judge’s order in full here.

Read one of my prior blogs about OSHA previously handing out citations for COVID-19 PPE violations.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Bolado, Carolina. “Fla. Judge Won’t Ax Suit Over Publix Worker’s COVID-19 Death.” Law360. (February 5, 2021). Web.

Toropin, Konstantin. “Family files suit over Publix employee’s death. It says company failed to protect him from Covid-19.” CNN. (November 23, 2020). Web.

DiNatale, Sara. “A Publix employee died from COVID-19. Now his family is suing over his death.” Tampa Bay Times. (November 23, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Federal Judge Says Pediatric Group Must Face Nurse EEOC Suit

Attorney George F. Indest III By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On November 4, 2020, a Florida federal court judge ruled that a Tampa-based pediatric medical group cannot escape a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit, denying its attempts to dismiss the case. According to the federal agency, Pediatric Health Care Alliance unlawfully retaliated against a nurse after the nurse reported a doctor for sexual harassment. U.S. District Judge Thomas Barber denied the medical group’s motion to dismiss, saying it neglected to confront or defend against the nurse’s claim that the medical group demoted her as punishment.

The EEOC Complaint: Nurse Forced to Quit After Reporting Sexual Harassment.

On June 22, 2020, the EEOC filed an employment lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. According to the complaint, a female nurse at Pediatric Alliance reported that a doctor at the company inappropriately touched her on two different occasions. Notably, that doctor was also the Vice President (VP) of the company.

According to the suit, the nurse suffered almost immediate retaliation for filing the complaint against the VP. The EEOC alleges that Pediatric Alliance transferred her to a different location against her wishes, replaced her nursing duties with administrative ones, and docked her pay. As a direct consequence of the retaliation, the EEOC contends that the long-time employee was, in effect, forced to resign.

To read the EEOC’s press release on the lawsuit, click here.

To read the EEOC’s lawsuit, in this case, click here.

Retaliation for filing A Sexual Harassment Complaint is Unlawful, Even if it Later Turns Out the Complaint Wasn’t Valid: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Under federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), employees have a legal right to raise workplace discrimination or harassment complaints. If an employee exercises this right, their company or organization is strictly prohibited from retaliating against them for doing so. Employers cannot take adverse employment action against an employee in retaliation for making a formal or informal complaint of harassment.

Adverse action occurs when an employee is penalized or punished in some form. In this case, transferring the nurse to a less desirable location, reducing salary, and taking away job duties are all examples of adverse action.

Analysis of the Ruling.

In this case, the defendant’s medical group/employer tried to get the court to dismiss the lawsuit (complaint) based on the EEOC’s earlier determination that the nurse failed to sufficiently support charges of sexual harassment. If the employer had not retaliated against the nurse, in this case, would have then been over. But that didn’t happen. The complaint asserted a claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII, not sexual harassment.

The court also noted that the medical group did not argue that the EEOC’s retaliation allegation was insufficient. Accordingly, the judge denied the motion to dismiss filed by Pediatric Alliance, the employer.

To view the court’s opinion in full, click here.

Tips for Employers to Avoid EEOC Complaints.

1. The employer should adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination and harassment.

2. Make sure your officers, supervisors, and key employees are instructed on a regular basis about what situations are considered sexual harassment or discrimination.

3. Make sure your officers, supervisors, and key employees sign a statement each year, stating that they are aware of the company’s “zero tolerance” policy and what constitutes harassment and discrimination.

4. Establish a method by which employees can submit reports of harassment and discrimination without the perpetrator becoming aware of it. This should be part of the employer’s compliance program.

5. Be sure your company or group has a good directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance and excess liability insurance policy that covers sexual harassment and discrimination claims.

6. Include an indemnification clause in the contracts of officers, supervisors, and key employees, requiring them to indemnify the employer in any case where the employer is held liable for acts of sexual harassment or discrimination.

7. Be sure that an employee who files a complaint does not have adverse employment action taken against him or her, especially based solely upon the word of the person against whom the complaint was filed. Bring a human relations expert in as early as possible to consult on the case, as well as an employment law defense attorney.

8. Make sure that all employees, including officers, supervisors, and key personnel, receive training once a year on avoiding sexual harassment and discrimination and document it in their personnel/human resources file. Hiring an outside trainer can make this less burdensome and more enjoyable. Again, this should be part of the employer’s compliance plan.

 

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late, Talk to an Experienced Attorney Now.

Florida workers have a right to report sexual harassment or discrimination without facing retribution, but workers often file complaints that are not valid. The EEOC advances opportunities in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Find out how The Health Law Firm can help if you are an employer that finds itself in this legal situation.

Additionally, please read one of our recent blogs dealing with a similar EEOC lawsuit.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses and Other Healthcare Professionals.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely provide legal representation to nurses, physicians, medical groups, pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, and other health providers. We provide legal representation for employers in EEOC complaints, workplace discrimination complaints, and suits involving harassment or discrimination complaints. We also provide legal representation in Department of Health, Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing investigations and complaints, DORA investigations and complaints. We provide litigation services in state and federal courts and state and federal administrative hearings. We provide legal representation across the U.S., not just in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Shanes, Alexis. “Fla. Pediatric Group Can’t Dodge EEOC Retaliation Suit.” Law360. (November 4, 2020). Web.

“EEOC Sues Pediatric Health Care Alliance for Retaliation Over Harassment Complaints.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (June 22, 2020). Web.

Bean, Mackenzie. “Florida practice retaliated against nurse for reporting harassment, EEOC says.” Becker’s Hospital Review. (November 9, 2020). Web.

 

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714. Call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free at (888) 331-6620.

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law

 

 

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