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Two families sue Freedom Square in Seminole over COVID-19 deaths

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Posted at 11:16 AM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 18:58:50-04

SEMINOLE, Fla. — Two families filed lawsuits this week in Pinellas County after their loved ones died shortly after contracting COVID-19 during their stay at the Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation and Nursing Services at Freedom Square in Seminole.

The lawsuits, which each seeks in excess of $30,000 in compensation, claim the facility “chose to place profits over residents.”

Court filings accuse the facility of keeping family members “in the dark” about the number of COVID-19 cases and the severity of the outbreak. The lawsuit also claims that the staff was not equipped with sufficient personal protective equipment.

Jessica Michelle Gunter, the stepdaughter of 75-year-old Donald Jack, and Steven Pugh, the son of 84- year-old Christopher Pugh, filed separate lawsuits Monday.

ABC Action News covered the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, including the push to test all residents and staff for the virus.

The outbreak eventually led to leaders at Freedom Square evacuating the entire Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation and Nursing Services Center and transferring 95 patients to area hospitals.

RELATED: 3 residents dead, 95 others evacuated after COVID-19 outbreak at Pinellas County nursing home

More than 100 employees and residents tested positive for the virus and 32 died, according to information released by the medical examiner and other Florida agencies.

The lawsuits claim “only after the facility had become known as the epicenter for COVID-19 in Pinellas County, did the defendant (facility) transfer residents to local hospitals to get the necessary care.”

The lawsuit says by the time of the transfers, Christopher Pugh had already contracted COVID-19 and died shortly after. According to court documents, Donald Jack died just 5 days after testing positive for COVID-19. Jack was only planning to stay in the facility for a short time but documents state, “What was supposed to be a merely short-term rehabilitation admission turned out to be a death sentence.”

The suits also accuse the facility of having insufficient infection control measures and waiting too long to tell the Florida Department of Health about the outbreak.

Bennie Lazarra at the law office of Wilkes Mchugh in Tampa is representing the families.

ABC Action News also received a response from Freedom Square's Executive Director Michael Mason regarding the lawsuits. Mason wrote in an email, “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 full transparency in communications to residents, families, and employees.”