A nursing home in West Virginia tried recently to fight a $90 million verdict – but a judge upheld it, saying that the amount was not excessive nor unconstitutional and that it was intended to accomplish punishment and deterrence.
Riviera Beach nursing home abuse lawyers know that verdicts this high aren’t necessarily the norm, but they aren’t unheard of either, particularly in cases where the abuse was especially egregious or resulted in serious injury or death.
That’s what happened here, according to court records on the case.
The patient in question was 87, and she was brought to the facility suffering from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia, among a few other conditions. There is no question that her health was failing. But that doesn’t mean she deserved sub-par treatment.
Prior to her move to the nursing home, she had been staying with her son after a long hospital stint. While there, she had recovered to a point that she was able to walk, talk and even recognize family members.
But as is the case with many who struggle to balance caring for an ailing, elderly parent and managing their own lives, her son made the difficult decision to place her in a nursing home. He had to place her in one facility while waiting for another to open.
She was at the first just three weeks before she died.
There were signs of problems almost immediately, her son says. Soon after he checked her in, he says, the staff labeled her a fall risk. As such, she was restrained to her wheelchair.
Over the course of those three weeks, her decline was rapid. She lost 15 pounds. She was no longer able to walk or speak. She was suffering from renal failure.
By the time she was transferred to the second nursing home, she was unresponsive and so dehydrated she was close to death, which came just days later, at a nearby hospice center.
During the trial, it was revealed that the nursing home that had cared for her during those three weeks did not have enough nurses on staff. A number of workers took the stand to testify that the facility’s staffing levels made it all but impossible to properly care for all of the residents. The employee turnover rate in 2009, the year this woman died, was 112 percent. In fact, prospective employees were bailing on the job after a cursory glimpse of the conditions. That says a lot.
This is a prime example of what can happen when for-profit facilities are more focused on the size of the bottom line, rather than the quality of the care. The goal, workers say, was to keep the number of residents high and the number of staffers low.
The nursing home attacked the testimony of former employees, saying their credibility was shot and one had been fired over an issue of stolen medication.
This is a facility that is owned by a corporation that controls hundreds of nursing homes nationwide. In fact, the firm’s parent company reported about $4 billion in earnings in 2009 and assets of approximately $8 billion that same year.
So while a verdict of $90 million might seem excessive, it’s actually not as substantial as it might seem on the surface for this facility. It’s certainly not going to put them out of business. And given the number of facilities they run, the judge is correct in his finding that such an amount can serve as a powerful deterrent for the corporation in the future.
While we in no way fault the son for what happened, there may have been some red flags to note prior to her check-in. The facility was given one out of five stars for overall care in its Medicaid ranking and previous state inspections had revealed nearly 30 deficiencies in the home, which is more than double the state’s average.
Still, he was expecting the stay to be temporary and he expected at least a basic level of care would be provided to his mother. She deserved that much. She clearly didn’t receive it.
Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
New trial denied in more than $90M nursing home verdict, May 6, 2013, By Kyla Asbury, The West Virginia Record
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