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A Florida appellate court has reversed and remanded for retrial a $10 million judgment against the owners of a nursing home, finding the trial court erred in allowing into evidence a complaint against the nursing care center in another case. The verdict had been awarded in August 1999 to plaintiffs Winifred and James Martin, who contended that the staff at Citrus Health and Rehabilitation Center had neglected a sore on one of Ms. Martin’s toes. As a result, the sore turned gangrenous and Martin’s leg was amputated above the knee. The Martins sued the owners of Citrus and won a $20 million verdict in August 1999. The judgment against the nursing home operators was reduced to $10 million. Martin v. Long Term Care Foundation Inc., No. 98-1258-CA (Citrus Co., Fla., Cir. Ct.). During the trial, to support a claim for punitive damages, the plaintiffs introduced a complaint against the nursing center brought by another resident, said defense trial counsel Scott Distasio of Tampa, Fla.’s Bales & Weinstein. In this complaint, Distasio said, the allegations were “that the facility did not feed or give water to the resident and so she died.” Distasio objected to its admission. Distasio protested that the complaint had not been filed before Ms. Martin had left the Citrus center, “so there was no way Citrus could have been put on notice until after she left.” Judge Daniel Merritt allowed the complaint into evidence. While the jury did not award punitives, Distasio said admission of the complaint colored the jury’s perception of the case. The defense filed post-trial motions to set aside the verdict, citing the admission of this complaint, said defense appellate counsel Charles P. Schropp of Tampa’s Schropp, Buell & Elligett, who was hired right after the verdict. These motions were denied in late 1999, and the Citrus Center’s owners appealed. For the appeal, said Schropp, the defense contended that the complaint should not have been admitted and that its admission was highly prejudicial to the defendant. On March 16, the appellate court agreed. The opinion, written by Chief Judge Emerson R. Thompson Jr., said that the complaint filed by the estate “was filed after Martin was discharged, so it could not have been relevant to show that the center ‘had a special reason to have had its attention drawn to the day-to-day management and care of’ its patients.” No new trial date has been set. The plaintiffs will not be appealing this decision but expect a similar verdict in the retrial, said defense appellate counsel Irwin Weiner of Ocala, Fla.’s Weiner & Argo.

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