Victims’ Advocate

Scott Fischer’s mission: to protect the elderly

Published in 2012 Florida Rising Stars — June 2012

Scott Fischer spends his days helping the elderly and their families battle nursing homes accused of neglect or abuse. But for the first four years of his career, he was on the opposite side of the courtroom.

The large defense firm that had hired him needed help advocating for nursing homes. “I got thrown right into the fire,” he says. “It was a great fit short term, because you never get that type of significant [courtroom] experience as a new lawyer.”

But the work didn’t sit well. “A lot of times, I felt that the claims that were being made certainly had merit,” he says. “Of course, my obligation was to defend my client.”

One case in particular, in which a nursing home resident managed to get off property and become gravely injured, made Fischer re-evaluate his career path. “My job was to hold down the value of the case and try to limit the damages, but you know, there is no excuse for that kind of stuff,” he says. “I really felt like, man, I’d feel better being the other guy and representing the family.”

It was another case, however, that brought the opportunity for change. After settling a negligence case against his current firm, Gordon & Doner, Fischer bumped into his opposing counsel at the gym. “We started talking, and I came to realize the firm was impressed with how I handled that case,” he says. “They wanted to know if I was interested in [plaintiff’s] work.” He joined the firm a few months later.

At Gordon & Doner, he takes two to four cases to “full-blown jury trials” a year. One  involved a woman who was admitted to a nursing home for treatment of a wound on her foot. Neglect on the part of the nursing home led to the wound becoming infested with maggots. The defense for the nursing home claimed it was possible the weather had something to do with the infestation—a recent hurricane had caused property damage, allowing flies to get in; and weather conditions perhaps expedited the flies’ reproductive cycle. The trial resulted in a $1.27 million award for his client. His defense knowledge proved helpful. “It was only about one and a half years after I switched sides,” Fischer says. “I have a pretty good idea what my opponent's strategy and thought process is in most cases. … I can mentally put myself back into their role.”

Most cases settle these days. A recent one involved a resident who was supposed to be under constant supervision. “The family comes to visit and the person is not in the lock-down unit,” Fischer says. “The staff has no idea where she is, they’re looking everywhere, and one goes out into the courtyard and sees a big bench that weighs about 50 pounds up against a fence that was about 8 feet high. So this lady in her early 80s had actually dragged the bench all the way to the fence, tilted it up against the fence, and jumped over it to try to escape this place.” The fall from the top of the fence broke her hip and caused other serious injuries. “I think that case is just amazing because of the amount of time it would have taken her to get out there, drag the thing and jump over. No one was looking the whole time. It’s just shocking.”

Fischer laments the fact that Florida recently reduced the required staffing levels of nursing homes. “That’s decreased. Not increased,” he says. “These corporations try to meet the minimum standards and pay the lowest wages for their nurses and aides and just get by. It’s no question that the whole system could use revamping, but unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen any time soon.”

As happy as he is with his work, Fischer feels an occasional tinge of sadness at not following the plan he had in mind when he went to law school: advocating for animals and the environment. “I actually went to law school with the idea that I’d be an advocate for animals because, under the law, they are considered property, not like a person or living thing.”

However, eight years into his plaintiff’s work—which includes a variety of personal injury and products liability cases—he sees how his original plan dovetails nicely with his practice. “I overcame the idea that I never got into the area of law that I wanted to because now I’m helping people and society,” he says. “There are many victims of nursing home abuse, and a great need for helping elderly people … especially here in Florida.”

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