Florida Court Rules Nurse Registry Owes No Duty of Care to Independent Contractor in Wrongful Death Suit

The Middle District Court of Florida on Monday granted defendant Gulfshore Private Home Care LLC’s motion for summary judgment in a wrongful death suit.

According to the opinion, Gulfshore, a licensed nurse registry in Florida that refers health care professionals to care for elderly and disabled clients in their homes, assigned the third-party defendant, Cris-Carol Samuels, a certified nursing assistant, to transport a client. As Samuels was transporting the client, she drove onto the sidewalk and fatally struck Geraldine F. Jennings with her vehicle.

Jennings’ estate, husband, and daughter filed a complaint against Gulfshore, alleging negligence and claiming “Samuels was an agent for, or in a joint venture with, Gulfshore,” “ ‘Gulfshore was negligent in selecting, hiring, retaining, instructing, and/or supervising’ Samuels,” and that Gulfshore is “vicariously liable for Samuels’ negligence because it breached its nondelegable duty to ensure safe transportation services,” the court explained.

Gulfshore, however, moved for summary judgment, arguing that it is not responsible for Samuels’ actions, given she was an independent contractor. The court affirmed that according to the Home Health Services Act (HHSA), Samuels is an independent contractor: “A … certified nursing assistant … referred for contract under this chapter by a nurse registry is deemed an independent contractor and not an employee of the nurse registry.”

However, the plaintiffs argued it should not matter whether Samuels was a contractor because Jennings was “an innocent bystander,” the court explained. The plaintiffs also contended in their attempts to demonstrate an employer-employee relationship between Gulfshore and Samuels that the HHSA does not cover transportation as a permitted activity, meaning Gulfshore would be responsible for the transportation.

The court said that the “innocent bystander” argument by the plaintiff is a “nonstarter”; to show a duty of care owed to Jennings, the employer-employee relationship would have to exist between Gulfshore and Samuels, and the court affirmed that none exists. The argument that the HHSA does not cover transportation was also made null according to Section 400.506(6)(b) of the HHSA that allows a certified nursing assistant to assist with “physical transfer”; thus, there was no nondelegable duty for Gulfshore to ensure against negligence of a contractor who is transporting a client, the court explained.

Florida law does not allow licensed nurse registries to “monitor, supervise, manage, or train the care provider,” rendering Gulfshore not responsible for its contractor’s negligence, the court said. The court also found that under Florida law, independent contractors for nurse registries must pass a background check; thus, Gulfshore “was not negligent in hiring or retaining Samuels,” given that the state determines the contractor’s fitness and eligibility to be on the nurse registry.

The court granted summary judgment on all counts, concluding that Gulfshore was not negligent and had no legal responsibility for the death of Jennings.

The plaintiffs were represented by the Law Office of Eddi Z. Zyko and Ewusiak Law. Gulfshore was represented by Unice Salzman Jensen and Torres Law Group.