Gov. Rick Scott and relatives of those who died want criminal charges. Under Florida law, a conviction may be hard to obtain, former prosecutors say.
Nine elderly patients died after being kept inside a Florida nursing home that turned into a sweatbox when Hurricane Irma knocked out its air conditioning for three days, even though just across the street was a fully functioning and cooled hospital. From the perspective of Gov. Rick Scott and relatives of those at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, criminal charges are warranted. Under Florida law, a prosecution might be difficult. Two of three ex-state prosecutors the contacted by The Associated Press doubted that Dr. Jack Michel, the home’s owner, or any of his employees will be charged. All agreed that criminal prosecutions will hinge on whether the nursing home staff made honest mistakes or were “culpably negligent.” Florida defines that as “consciously doing an act or following a course of conduct that the defendant must have known, or reasonably should have known, was likely to cause death or great bodily injury.”
The home has said it used coolers, fans, ice and other methods to keep the patients comfortable. That might be enough to avoid prosecution. “There is a difference between negligence, which is what occurs when you are not giving a particular standard of care vs. culpable negligence,” said David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor. “So if they are doing everything humanly possible given the circumstances and this all still happened it may be negligent and provide the basis for a civil lawsuit, but not enough for criminal charges.” Former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey disagreed. “Given the magnitude of the tragedy and the apparent availability of a hospital 50 yards away, prosecutors are not going to accept that this was an unavoidable tragedy,” he said.