9th Circuit Court Rules Former Nurse Can Proceed With Med Mal Suit Against VA Hospital

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

On September 29, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a former federal employee can sue the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The suit alleges medical negligence that occurred during psychiatric treatment for a non-workplace-related injury.

As a result, the three-judge panel of the appeals court said that U.S. Navy veteran and VA nurse S.H.s’ lawsuit against a Seattle VA hospital can proceed. (Please note: we are not providing the nurse’s name out of respect for her privacy.)

In 2019, the district court dismissed S.H.’s federal tort lawsuit because the alleged malpractice occurred when doctors were treating an injury she said she sustained at her workplace. The district court reasoned that all existing or exacerbated injuries stemming from a federal workplace injury must be dealt with through the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA), even malpractice claims.

Click here to view the district court’s order for the motion to dismiss in full.


Background Details.

The plaintiff in the suit is a veteran of the U.S. Navy who suffered a mental breakdown at work in October 2011. She sought follow-up psychiatric care at a VA hospital, where she allegedly received negligent treatment. At the time the treatment was sought, she was an employee of the federal government. She claimed years of workplace bullying and harassment by her supervisor caused her mental breakdown. She sued in 2016.

The FTCA authorizes plaintiffs to sue the U.S. for “personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Any individual employee of the government acting within the course and scope of her job duties is immune from liability; the United States is substituted for that person in the suit.


The Big Question: Does the FTCA Authorize Suit by a Plaintiff in This Set of Circumstances?

Two factors complicate the answer in this case. First, when the plaintiff sought treatment, she was an employee of the federal government, working as a registered nurse at the VA hospital. Second, she claimed that her mental breakdown, the event that prompted her to seek medical care, was caused by workplace bullying and harassment at the hands of her supervisor. Hence, this would qualify as a work-related injury.

These facts bring into play another federal statute: the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. FECA establishes a workers’ compensation blueprint that covers most federal employees. It is similar to state workers’ compensation laws.

When an employee sustains an injury covered by FECA, the remedy is to seek compensation under the act; they may not sue for damages under any other provision of law, including the FTCA. Therefore, had the plaintiff sued the U.S. under the FTCA to recover damages for workplace bullying and harassment, the district court would have been required to dismiss the action as barred by FECA.

In this case, however, the plaintiff is not suing for the injuries caused by the workplace bullying and harassment. Instead, she is seeking to recover damages for the alleged medical malpractice by the individual doctors treating her.

Based on these facts, the appellate court reversed the district court’s judgment against the plaintiff in her Federal Tort Claims Act action. It held that the district court erred in dismissing the action on the grounds that it was barred by the FECA.

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


Consult a Health Law Attorney Who Is Familiar with Army, Navy, and Air Force Health Care Professionals and Their Problems.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have represented federal physicians, nurses, dentists, and other health professionals in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, active duty and retired, as well as physicians, nurses, and other health professionals working for the Veterans Administration (VA) in the U.S. and around the world. They represent physicians and other health professionals with the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Public Health Service (PHS). Representation has included disciplinary action, investigations, peer review investigations, clinical privileges actions, fair hearings, National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) actions, and appeals.

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:

Capriel, Jonathan. “9th Circ. Revives Psychiatric Med Mal Suit Against VA Hospital.” Law360. (September 29, 2021). Web.

Pazanowski, Mary Ann. “Former Federal Nurse Gets New Shot at Injury Suit Against US.” Bloomberg Law. (September 29, 2021). Web.


About the Author:
 Carole C. Schriefer is an attorney and former registered nurse. She practices with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its regional office is in the Northern Colorado, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 155 East Boardwalk Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado 80525. Phone: (970) 416-7456 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.

“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.

By |2021-10-27T10:20:22-04:00November 12th, 2021|Categories: Health Facilities Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Florida Gov Signs Sweeping COVID-19 Liability Protections Into Law

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

On March 29, 2021, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that protects businesses, governments, and healthcare providers in Florida from COVID-19 lawsuits if they make a reasonable effort to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus (whatever that means). Specifically, the measure gives civil immunity to corporations, hospitals, nursing homes, government entities, schools, and churches as long as the alleged negligence doesn’t involve gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The House Passed S.B. 72 on March 26, in an 83-31 vote, and DeSantis signed it the same day he received it from the Legislature.

Why doesn’t this conflict with the Florida Governor’s ban on any mandatory masking, vaccination, or vaccination “passport” requirements? This is very unclear. Perhaps the courts will need to straighten it out.


Details of Senate Bill 72.

The new law establishes significant legal hurdles for individuals who want to sue businesses and health care professionals over coronavirus-related injuries. Plaintiffs who file suit will need to show that the defendant deliberately ignored public health safety guidelines. They will also need a signed affidavit from a doctor stating with reasonable certainty that injury or death caused by COVID-19 was a direct result of the defendant’s actions. Does this sound arbitrary and capricious to anyone other than me?

Now how can a doctor or anyone else make a statement like the one required by the law? How does a doctor know where the patient has been or with whom the patient has been in contact the last fifteen days? How is a physician going to conduct contact tracing and figure out where the patient’s COVID-19 came from? This is very unclear. Perhaps the courts will need to straighten it out.

The law states that it will apply retroactively to the beginning of the pandemic. One must ask if this is an ex post facto law prohibited by the U.S. Constitution (Art. I, § 10, cl. 1.) and the Florida Constitution (Art. 1, § 10)? Additionally, the new law establishes a one-year limitation period to sue from the date of death, hospitalization, or COVID-19 diagnosis that forms the basis of the claim. Boy, this should really throw a big stumbling block in front of any potential plaintiff trying to get into court. (Note: Yes, I know that the federal prohibition on ex post facto laws was held to apply to criminal laws.)

“Over the course of the past year, our state’s businesses, health care providers, and other organizations have been forced to operate in fear of frivolous lawsuits with no merit threatening their livelihoods. As we move forward in our state’s economic recovery, this piece of legislation will provide Floridians with greater peace of mind as they go to work, go to school, and go about their daily lives,” DeSantis said applauding the quick passage of the legislation.

View S.B. 72 here.

To read about a recent case in Florida involving a COVID-19 death lawsuit, click here to read my blog.

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. We do NOT represent plaintiffs in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

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. “Fla. Gov. Signs Sweeping COVID-19 Liability Protection Law.” Law360. (March 29, 2021). Web.

Kang, Y. Peter. “Fla. COVID-19 Biz Liability Shield Bill Sent To Gov.’s Desk.” Law360. (March 26, 2021). Web.

NBC 6 Miami. “Florida Governor Signs COVID-19 Liability Protection Bill.” AP News. (March 29, 2021). 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, Florida 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.

University of Colorado Sued For Denying COVID-19 Vaccine Religious Exemptions

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

On September 29, 2021, a pediatrician and medical student sued the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (CU) for denying COVID vaccine religious exemptions. The U.S. District Court lawsuit argued that school administrators judge the validity of personal religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment.

Religious Exception For COVID Vaccine.

Both plaintiffs are challenging the denial of their requests for religious exemptions from the school’s COVID vaccination mandate. The lawsuit alleges that the university arbitrarily grants religious exemptions to its vaccine requirement for all staff and students. It also claims that CU is approving requests that are based on organized religious beliefs that oppose vaccinations while subjecting requests based on personal religious beliefs to “intrusive religious inquisition to test the veracity of students’ and employees’ asserted religious beliefs.”

Details of the Denials.

Neither plaintiff is named in the lawsuit ostensibly to protect them from retaliation. Instead, the pediatrician is referred to as “Dr. Jane Doe,” and the first-year medical student as “John Doe.”

According to the complaint, Dr. Jane Doe requested a religious exemption based on her Catholic beliefs and opposition to “abortion-derived cell lines” used in the three available U.S. vaccines. However, she did not oppose other vaccines, such as the flu shot.

Because of this, CU denied her request, stating that campus policy “only recognizes religious exemptions based on a religious belief whose teachings are opposed to all immunizations,” according to the complaint. Jane Doe argues that her pending termination will harm her reputation and stain her record as a licensed medical professional.

According to the complaint, the second plaintiff, John Doe, a first-year medical student, requested a religious exemption citing his Buddhist beliefs and avoidance of “products developed through the killing or harming of animals (including human beings).”

CU officials also denied the exception request, stating that John Doe’s objections to the vaccine “are all of a personal nature and not part of a comprehensive system of religious beliefs.”

The lawsuit says John Doe’s pending termination from CU would bar him from transferring to a different medical school under guidelines issued by the Association of American Medical Colleges and that he would have to reapply to attend a different U.S. medical program.

In response to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the university said their mandatory vaccine policy “offers the best way to protect” the more than two million patients that the university faculty serve annually.

Both plaintiffs seek approval of their requests for religious exemptions and money for court costs and personal damages. This lawsuit is just one example of the fight over a growing number of COVID vaccine mandates nationwide. As a result, businesses need to be mindful and provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities or religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving the COVID vaccine.

To read about another recent case regarding a hospital’s COVID vaccine mandate, click here to read my prior blog.

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, medical groups, institutions, and individual health professionals 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 and DORA investigations. We represent medical students and resident physicians in disputes with their medical education programs. We do NOT represent plaintiffs seeking to avoid vaccinations or in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

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:

Nieberg, Patty. “University of Colorado faces COVID religious exemption suit.” AP News. (September 29, 2021). Web.

“Pediatrician, medical student sue University of Colorado over denial of COVID vaccine religious exemption.” The Colorado Sun. (September 30, 2021). 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, Florida 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.

 

Texas Hospital’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Upheld by Federal Court

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

As some states lift COVID-19 restrictions, the business community is still grappling with the dynamic between the COVID-19 vaccine and workplace operations. To address this, some U.S. employers have elected to adopt mandatory vaccination policies. These policies, in essence, require that, subject to a few exceptions, all employees must receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment.

Not surprisingly, we see various legal challenges to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies across the country. On June 12, 2021, a federal court in Texas became the first to rule on the permissibility of such policies enforced by private employers. In a landmark ruling, the court stated that mandatory workplace vaccination policies are lawful under Texas and federal law and may be enforced as a condition of continued employment.


The Court’s Ruling on Mandatory Vaccination Policies.

The lawsuit, Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, was initially filed on behalf of 117 employees after their employer, Houston Methodist Hospital, instituted a policy requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment. Employees who were not vaccinated by the deadline were to be placed on a two-week unpaid suspension to allow them to comply with the policy. Under the policy, those who ultimately did not comply would be terminated.

In the law suit challenging the employer’s policy, the Plaintiffs asserted: (1) the employees whose employment was terminated as a result of this policy were wrongfully terminated in violation of Texas law, and (2) the vaccine mandate violated public policy of the state of Texas.

Texas Wrongful Termination Claim.

Under Texas law, the court found that firing an employee who is unwilling to comply with an employer’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy does not constitute wrongful termination. Texas law only protects employees who are fired for refusing to commit an illegal act at the request of their employer. The court reasoned that receiving the vaccine is not an illegal act given the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings upholding involuntary quarantines and mandatory vaccines.

Violation of Public Policy.

The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ public policy arguments because, according to the court, Texas law does not recognize a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Additionally, the court noted that a mandatory vaccine requirement is consistent with public policy. The Supreme Court has previously held that state-imposed quarantine and vaccination requirements do not violate due process of law.

The court held that the plaintiffs were not being coerced to get the vaccine but were being given a basic choice by its employer: get the vaccine so the hospital could safely continue its business of saving lives or seek employment elsewhere.

Lastly, the court also cited recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance in its decision. The guidance states that employers can require employees to be vaccinated, subject to the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with legitimate medical or religious reasons for not being vaccinated. Click here to view.

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

Important Takeaway From This Court Decision.

While there are sure to be future legal challenges to mandatory workplace vaccination policies, this decision provides strong support for their use and permissibility. However, even with this ruling, employers with policies need to be mindful of their obligations and potentially provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, we will see numerous legal challenges of all kinds to these decisions.

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. We do NOT represent plaintiffs in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

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:

Downie, Alex. “Federal Court Upholds Employer’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate.” The National Law Review. (June 15, 2021). Web.

Brown, Amanda, Goldstein, Mark. “In first-of-its-kind decision, federal court rules that mandatory workplace COVID-19 vaccine policies are lawful.” Employment Law Watch. (June 16, 2021). 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, Florida 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.

 

9th Circuit Says Former Federal Nurse Can Proceed With Medical Malpractice Suit Against VA Hospital

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

On September 29, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a former federal employee can sue the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The suit alleges medical negligence that occurred during psychiatric treatment for a non-workplace-related injury.

As a result, the three-judge panel of the appeals court said that U.S. Navy veteran and VA nurse S.H.s’ lawsuit against a Seattle VA hospital can proceed. (Please note: we are not providing the nurse’s name out of respect for her privacy.)

In 2019, the district court dismissed S.H.’s federal tort lawsuit because the alleged malpractice occurred when doctors were treating an injury she said she sustained at her workplace. The district court reasoned that all existing or exacerbated injuries stemming from a federal workplace injury must be dealt with through the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA), even malpractice claims.

Click here to view the district court’s order for the motion to dismiss in full.


Background Details.

The plaintiff in the suit is a veteran of the U.S. Navy who suffered a mental breakdown at work in October 2011. She sought follow-up psychiatric care at a VA hospital, where she allegedly received negligent treatment. At the time the treatment was sought, she was an employee of the federal government. She claimed years of workplace bullying and harassment by her supervisor caused her mental breakdown. She sued in 2016.

The FTCA authorizes plaintiffs to sue the U.S. for “personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Any individual employee of the government acting within the course and scope of her job duties is immune from liability; the United States is substituted for that person in the suit.

The Big Question: Does the FTCA Authorize Suit by a Plaintiff in This Set of Circumstances?

Two factors complicate the answer in this case. First, when the plaintiff sought treatment, she was an employee of the federal government, working as a registered nurse at the VA hospital. Second, she claimed that her mental breakdown, the event that prompted her to seek medical care, was caused by workplace bullying and harassment at the hands of her supervisor. Hence, this would qualify as a work-related injury.

These facts bring into play another federal statute: the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. FECA establishes a workers’ compensation blueprint that covers most federal employees. It is similar to state workers’ compensation laws.

When an employee sustains an injury covered by FECA, the remedy is to seek compensation under the act; they may not sue for damages under any other provision of law, including the FTCA. Therefore, had the plaintiff sued the U.S. under the FTCA to recover damages for workplace bullying and harassment, the district court would have been required to dismiss the action as barred by FECA.

In this case, however, the plaintiff is not suing for the injuries caused by workplace bullying and harassment. Instead, she is seeking to recover damages for the alleged medical malpractice by the individual doctors treating her.

Based on these facts, the appellate court reversed the district court’s judgment against the plaintiff in her Federal Tort Claims Act action. It held that the district court erred in dismissing the action on the grounds that it was barred by the FECA.

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

Consult a Health Law Attorney Who Is Familiar with Army, Navy, and Air Force Health Care Professionals and Their Problems.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have represented federal physicians, nurses, dentists, and other health professionals in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, active duty and retired, as well as physicians, nurses, and other health professionals working for the Veterans Administration (VA) in the U.S. and around the world. They represent physicians and other health professionals with the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Public Health Service (PHS). Representation has included disciplinary action, investigations, peer review investigations, clinical privileges actions, fair hearings, National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) actions, and appeals.

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:

Capriel, Jonathan. “9th Circ. Revives Psychiatric Med Mal Suit Against VA Hospital.” Law360. (September 29, 2021). Web.

Pazanowski, Mary Ann. “Former Federal Nurse Gets New Shot at Injury Suit Against US.” Bloomberg Law. (September 29, 2021). 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 Firm. All rights reserved.

By |2021-10-06T16:25:21-04:00October 6th, 2021|Categories: Nursing Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

DOH Releases Quarterly Report Covering Through March 2021

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

The Florida Department of Health’s Quarterly Performance Report (QPR) for the Third Quarter of Fiscal Year 2020-2021, was recently released. It provides information and statistics on actions involving licensed health professionals through March 2021.

Scope of the Florida DOH’s Control.

First, note that Florida’s Department of Health regulates 22 health care practitioner boards and four health professional councils. This makes it one of the largest such organizations in the country. Second, this also means that the practice of health care in Florida is one of the most heavily regulated anywhere in the U.S., with each professional board, as well as the Department of Health, having specific Florida statutes governing their professions, as well as the different boards each enacting different sets of administrative rules regulating those professions.

The Quarterly Performance Report contains financial and statistical information concerning licensed health professionals.

Key Emphasis on Unlicensed Practice of Health Care Professions.

The key emphasis of this report is the Department of Health’s ongoing efforts to reduce and eliminate the unlicensed practice (UP) of health care professions in the state. This is often referred to generically as the “unlicensed practice of medicine,” but it applies to any health profession for which a license in Florida is required, for example, massage therapy.

A large Number of Health Care Professionals in Florida.

The Report points out that the Department of Health issued 29,651 professional licenses to new applicants just in the Third Quarter of the fiscal year, from January 1, 2021, through March 31, 2021.

The Medical Quality Assurance (MQA) division of the Department of Health issued 102 cease and desist orders to unlicensed individuals whose unregulated and illegal activities were reported to it. It referred 98 complaints to law enforcement agencies for potential criminal violations.

The unlicensed practice of a health profession in Florida is a felony.

It would be interesting to imagine how many additional applicants there might have been for licensed and how many additional complaints and prosecutions for unlicensed practice there might have been if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t been in full bloom. The QPR shows overall enforcement support down for the Fiscal Year 2020-2021, undoubtedly because of this.


Which Professions Have the Most Unlicensed Violations?

Although the QPR does not discuss this, from my own personal experience, the ere are three top runners: massage therapy, nursing, and dentistry; note, however, that this is my opinion, only.

It seems to me that there are many cases of mistaken unlicensed practice brought against massage therapists because of mistakes in identity by investigators. We have experienced cases where investigators arrest several different individuals of foreign origin who happen to be present at a massage establishment and accuse them of practicing there without a license when that person was only there visiting a friend or relative and did not touch any client. Often the visitor and even the licensed professionals there will speak little or no English, therefore being unable to clear up any confusion.

Dentistry is another profession where there is a great deal of unlicensed practice. Often this arises when an individual was a dentist in a foreign county and relocates to the U.S., but is unable to obtain a license. They may set up shop in a home or garage and hold themselves out to a certain group speaking the same foreign language, as able to provide skilled dental services. To me, the number of unlicensed practice cases I have encountered in this profession is largely due to the absence of qualified licensed dentists providing care in our communities, especially to the indigent and immigrant communities.

Charges of unlicensed practice of nursing often arise because of nurses who may have been trained abroad failing to make sure that everyone they work with refers to them as “medical assistants” or whatever other role they are filling. It is very common in doctors’ offices and medical practices to refer to anyone who assists the doctor in any way as “the nurse.” One must be careful if one is not a licensed nurse to correct this mistitling whenever it occurs. We have had multiple cases of a doctor’s competitor or a disgruntled patient filing a complaint that the doctor’s medical assistant was holding himself out to be a nurse when they were not.

To Read the entire DOH Third Quarterly Performance Report for 2020-2021, click here:

http://www.floridahealth.gov/licensing-and-regulation/reports-and-publications/_documents/qpr3-2021.pdf

Remember the Mission of the Florida Department of Health; It is Not to Help YOU.

The QPR emphasizes the same thing you will hear at every professional board meeting if you attend it. That is, the mission of the Florida Department of Health is to protect, promote, and improve the health of all people in Florida and to protect the public. It is not to advocate for or help any individual licensed health professional.

That is one of the reasons I continually tell licensed health professionals that if you want advice on what to do or how to do it legally, don’t call and ask the Department of Health.

First, there is no individual who is authorized to give you advice on what to do or not to do on behalf of any profession, board, or council. Second, there is no individual who is authorized to make decisions on behalf of any professional board or council. A professional board speaks when it meets, discusses an issue, and votes on that issue. That is how decisions are made; not by what one employee may think.

You may send all of your complaints and other hate mail to me at one of the addresses given below.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Department of Health Matters and Investigations.

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, Durable Medical Equipment (DME) suppliers, medical students and interns, chiropractors, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider

Our attorneys provide legal representation in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigations, and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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.

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., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

Keywords: Department of Health investigation representation, DOH defense lawyer, DOH investigation, representation for DOH investigations, DOH investigation defense attorney, DOH representation, representation for board licensing complaint, board licensing complaint representation, board licensing complaint lawyer, board representation for healthcare professionals, licensure defense, licensure defense attorney, licensure defense representation, representation for administrative complaint, administrative licensure investigation representation, healthcare license representation, administrative hearing attorney, Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) representation, AHCA attorney, AHCA defense lawyer, nurse attorney, representation for nurses, nurse defense lawyer, healthcare attorney, representation for healthcare professionals, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, FBI agents, OIG special agents, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigators, representation for physicians, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews for The Health Law Firm

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

 

 

 

Department of Health Quarterly Report Released Covering Through March 2021

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

The Florida Department of Health’s Quarterly Performance Report (QPR) for the Third Quarter of Fiscal Year 2020-2021, was recently released. It provides information and statistics on actions involving licensed health professionals through March 2021.

Scope of the Florida Department of Health’s Control.

First, note that Florida’s Department of Health regulates 22 health care practitioner boards and four health professional councils. This makes it one of the largest such organizations in the country. Second, this also means that the practice of health care in Florida is one of the most heavily regulated anywhere in the U.S., with each professional board, as well as the Department of Health, having specific Florida statutes governing their professions, as well as the different boards each enacting different sets of administrative rules regulating those professions.

The Quarterly Performance Report contains financial and statistical information concerning licensed health professionals.

Key Emphasis on Unlicensed Practice of Health Care Professions.

The key emphasis of this report is the Department of Health’s ongoing efforts to reduce and eliminate the unlicensed practice (UP) of health care professions in the state. This is often referred to generically as the “unlicensed practice of medicine,” but it applies to any health profession for which a license in Florida is required, for example, massage therapy.

Large Number of Health Care Professionals in Florida.

The Report points out that the Department of Health issued 29,651 professional licenses to new applicants just in the Third Quarter of the fiscal year, from January 1, 2021, through March 31, 2021.

The Medical Quality Assurance (MQA) division of the Department of Health issued 102 cease and desist orders to unlicensed individuals whose unregulated and illegal activities were reported to it. It referred 98 complaints to law enforcement agencies for potential criminal violations.

The unlicensed practice of a health profession in Florida is a felony.

It would be interesting to imagine how many additional applicants there might have been for licensed and how many additional complaints and prosecutions for unlicensed practice there might have been if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t been in full bloom. The QPR shows overall enforcement support down for the Fiscal Year 2020-2021, undoubtedly because of this.

Which Professions Have Most Unlicensed Violations?

Although the QPR does not discuss this, from my own personal experience, the ere are three top runners: massage therapy, nursing, and dentistry; note, however, that this is my opinion, only.

It seems to me that there are many cases of mistaken unlicensed practice brought against massage therapists because of mistakes in identity by investigators. We have experienced cases where investigators arrest several different individuals of foreign origin who happen to be present at a massage establishment and accuse them of practicing there without a license when that person was only there visiting a friend or relative and did not touch any client. Often the visitor and even the licensed professionals there will speak little or no English, therefore being unable to clear up any confusion.

Dentistry is another profession where there is a great deal of unlicensed practice. Often this arises when an individual was a dentist in a foreign county and relocates to the U.S., but is unable to obtain a license. They may set up shop in a home or garage and hold themselves out to a certain group speaking the same foreign language, as able to provide skilled dental services. To me, the number of unlicensed practice cases I have encountered in this profession is largely due to the absence of qualified licensed dentists providing care in our communities, especially to the indigent and immigrant communities.

Charges of unlicensed practice of nursing often arise because of nurses who may have been trained abroad failing to make sure that everyone they work with refers to them as “medical assistants” or whatever other role they are filling. It is very common in doctors’ offices and medical practices to refer to anyone who assists the doctor in any way as “the nurse.” One must be careful if one is not a licensed nurse to correct this mistitling whenever it occurs. We have had multiple cases of a doctor’s competitor or a disgruntled patient filing a complaint that the doctor’s medical assistant was holding himself out to be a nurse when they were not.

To Read the entire DOH Third Quarterly Performance Report for 2020-2021, click here:

http://www.floridahealth.gov/licensing-and-regulation/reports-and-publications/_documents/qpr3-2021.pdf

Remember the Mission of the Florida Department of Health; It is Not to Help YOU.

The QPR emphasizes the same thing you will hear at every professional board meeting if you attend it. That is, the mission of the Florida Department of Health is to protect, promote, and improve the health of all people in Florida and to protect the public. It is not to advocate for or help any individual licensed health professional.

That is one of the reasons I continually tell licensed health professionals that if you want advice on what to do or how to do it legally, don’t call and ask the Department of Health.

First, there is no individual who is authorized to give you advice on what to do or not to do on behalf of any profession, board, or council. Second, there is no individual who is authorized to make decisions on behalf of any professional board or council. A professional board speaks when it meets, discusses an issue, and votes on that issue. That is how decisions are made; not by what one employee may think.

You may send all of your complaints and other hate mail to me at one of the addresses given below.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Department of Health Matters and Investigations.

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, Durable Medical Equipment (DME) suppliers, medical students and interns, chiropractors, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider

Our attorneys provide legal representation in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigations, and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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.

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., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

Keywords: Department of Health investigation representation, DOH defense lawyer, DOH investigation, representation for DOH investigations, DOH investigation defense attorney, DOH representation, representation for board licensing complaint, board licensing complaint representation, board licensing complaint lawyer, board representation for healthcare professionals, licensure defense, licensure defense attorney, licensure defense representation, representation for administrative complaint, administrative licensure investigation representation, healthcare license representation, administrative hearing attorney, Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) representation, AHCA attorney, AHCA defense lawyer, nurse attorney, representation for nurses, nurse defense lawyer, healthcare attorney, representation for healthcare professionals, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, FBI agents, OIG special agents, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigators, representation for physicians, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews for The Health Law Firm

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

 

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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