Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals Allows Negligence Lawsuit Against Residential Treatment Facility to Proceed

As life eventually reveals, some members of society are unable to live independently and need a greater amount of care and attention than the average person during all or parts of their lives. Special facilities exist to help cater to these individuals, and they are obligated to follow certain standards set by law. A failure to uphold these standards can result in an injury, and the treatment facility in question can potentially be held accountable for its negligence.

In Townes v. Nat’l Deaf Academy, LLC (5D14-904), the district appellate court affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court’s summary judgment in a negligence lawsuit against a residential treatment facility. The resident suffered an amputated leg after being placed in a disciplinary hold by a staff member at the facility. This facility functioned as both a school and a residential treatment facility for deaf, hard of hearing, and autistic individuals diagnosed with psychiatric and behavioral disorders. Educational services are offered alongside psychological, psychiatric, and medical services that are provided by psychiatrists, nurses, and therapists.

The injured resident suffered from several psychiatric conditions, including bipolar disorder, PTSD, and impulse control disorder. Part of her care plan included a Therapeutic Aggression Control Techniques (TACT), which allowed staff members to physically restrain her after the most senior employee on the scene determined that a TACT hold was appropriate to control her after a behavioral outburst.

On the date of the injury-causing incident, the resident had left campus. Upon her return, she began throwing rocks and pulling at cables and wires. Staff tried to de-escalate the situation verbally, but they were ultimately unsuccessful. A nurse then made the decision to perform a TACT hold, which was also unsuccessful. During this time, the resident put her toe down, wrapped her leg around a different nurse, and caused both to fall, sustaining an injury to her leg. Staff on the scene believed the injury to be a dislocated knee and provided her with previously prescribed medication. The resident was treated soon afterward at a local hospital, but she had to undergo an above-the-knee amputation as a result of the injury sustained during the attempted TACT protective hold.

The resident’s aunt, who also acted as her Power of Attorney, filed suit against the facility, claiming several counts of negligence, including failing to recognize the need for the resident to be in a different facility, failing to use a less restrictive method of force during the encounter, and failing to provide reasonable care. The facility moved to dismiss, arguing that the lawsuit was not properly handled as a medical malpractice action and was beyond the statute of limitations.

The appellate court disagreed with the lower court’s decision to dismiss for failing to follow Florida statutes guiding medical malpractice actions. The court agreed with the injured person and did not feel the facility was a “health care provider” under Florida Statute 766.106, so the injured person was not obligated to follow the guidelines applicable to a medical malpractice case. While the incident involved medical personnel, the appellate court did not think the injury resulted from a decision involving medical skill or judgment. The court also did not agree with the lower court’s ruling that the time had run out for the injured person to file her amended complaint. While part of the summary judgment was affirmed, the district appellate court reversed four of the six counts and remanded the case to the trial court.

The Florida personal injury attorneys at Donaldson & Weston are here to help you seek to hold negligent parties accountable and maximize the damages you deserve. Call today for a free, confidential consultation at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.

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