Families of loved ones who died of COVID-19 sue Pinellas County nursing home

The families of two former residents of a Pinellas County nursing home are suing the facility, claiming management put profits before people’s lives.

Christopher Pugh, 84, lived at Seminole Pavilion at Freedom Square for a year, while Donald Jack, 75, had only checked-in for a short stay at the start of April.  Both men got sick after a COVID-19 outbreak swept through the nursing home.  And days after being transferred out of the facility, they both died.

“They trusted this home to take care of their loved ones, their father, their grandfather, and it didn’t turn out that way,” said attorney Bennie Lazzara Jr. with Wilkes & McHugh.

RELATED: Three dead, dozens test positive for COVID-19 at Seminole nursing home

Lazzara is representing family members of both elderly men.  The pair of 40-page lawsuits were filed Monday in Pinellas Circuit Court.  They allege the management of Seminole Pavilion “…chose to place profits over residents and ignore deficiencies in their emergency preparedness plan and in their infection and prevention and control program.”

The filings also accuse the facility of keeping loved ones “in the dark” about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak until it was reported by the media.

“They don’t want this to happen to somebody else, to be able to see some justice come out of this and some changes made in the way these nursing homes are run,” Lazzara said.

According to state data, nearly 52% of COVID-19 deaths are connected to long-term care facilities, and the outbreak at Seminole Pavilion is one of the deadliest in the state.  FOX 13 News has been tracking the death toll, so far, 32 residents and 1 employee have died from the virus.

RELATED: Death of Seminole Pavillion nurse brings Freedom Square death toll to 17

“You don’t have this kind of a problem unless you’re not ready for it and unless you’re not properly trained,” said Lazzara.

Each suit seeks at least $30,000 in damages.  A jury will decide what amount is awarded.

Lazzara hopes suing the facility sheds more light on the breakdowns he says happened inside the nursing home, a place that had a responsibility to take care of these people.

“You can’t just flush these people down the drain like you would an old or a sick goldfish,” Lazzara said.

Officials with Freedom Square of Seminole released this statement to FOX 13 News:

While Freedom Square does not comment on pending litigation, our top priority has been and will continue to be the well-being and safety of our residents and employees since the onset of this pandemic.  We continue to strictly adhere to all guidance from local, state and federal health agencies.  We have also committed ourselves to the full transparency in communications to residents, families and employees.