A state appeals court on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit that blamed Florida Power & Light for a deadly situation in which residents of a Broward County nursing home were stuck without power following Hurricane Irma in 2017.
A three-judge panel upheld a circuit court decision that dismissed the allegations made against the state’s largest power utility by Christine Cooper, who was a resident of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. The storm knocked out power to the center’s air conditioning system for three days.
Authorities later attributed 12 resident deaths to the warm conditions inside the building due to the loss of power.
Cooper’s lawsuit alleged that FPL was partially responsible and claimed the utility did not act to quickly restore power.
However, the appeals court ultimately focused on whether FPL had a legal “duty of care” to Cooper and concluded the company did not.
“Were we to find such a duty, it would open up public utilities to enormous liability for every conceivable injury, both personal and property, which may occur during a power outage,” said the ruling, which was written by Judge Martha Warner and joined by Judge Alan Forst and Associate Judge Lisa Walsh.
It continues, “And to have a jury assess the adequacy of FPL’s plans and performance during an event, such as an outage due to a hurricane, would interfere with the extensive regulation of public utilities already required through the Public Service Commission. Such a ‘drastic shift’ of liability to a public utility is more properly made by the Legislature or Public Service Commission.”
The state eventually revoked the nursing home’s license. Earlier this year, the 4th District Court of Appeal supported an administrative law judge’s decision to uphold the license revocation.
Cooper sued both FPL and the nursing home, seeking damages from the power company for bodily injury and emotional distress. Her complaint alleged, “that FPL had a general duty to the public to maintain and operate the electric grid so that power is supplied.”