Jurors overhearing a recent nursing home neglect case were so horrified by the details, they awarded $30 million in damages – $28 million of that being punitive damages against the nursing home, its two owners and related companies.
Such damage awards aren’t necessarily the norm. In fact, most nursing home neglect lawsuits are settled prior to trial. However, plaintiffs are increasingly becoming emboldened to take action against staffers and facilities that fail to provide proper care to them and their loved ones. The clear message is that substandard care of our most vulnerable citizens is unacceptable, and nursing homes that try to cut corners with reductions in staff and poor training are ultimately going to pay for it.
Most of the cases involve injury or death from falls, fractures, pressure sores, dehydration, malnutrition or a delayed response to certain infections. These are often very complex and challenging cases because usually the primary witness – the elderly victim – is either deceased or has diminished mental capacity. But when they are successful, plaintiffs are finding they can often result in substantial compensation. Still, most plaintiffs aren’t actually in it to recover money. Really what they are looking for is to prevent the same thing from happening to someone else. They don’t want someone else to endure what they and their loved one have.
This was the case for a man in Pennsylvania who recently shared his story with the Post-Gazette. His 94-year-old mother died in 2004, just 10 days after being transported to the hospital from a local nursing home. The paramedic who transported her testified during a 2007 trial that the elderly woman was “severely dehydrated.” In fact, nursing staff’s own notes indicated she had been crying for water the day before her transport. There was no indication that she’d been given any. When her son rushed to her side, she said her mother was “dried out,” her skin scaly like a fish. After his mother’s passing, he was turned down by several law firms, who initially noted that the fact that his mother lacked future employment earnings severely limited the recoverable amount. Ultimately, another firm did take the case and $200,000 was awarded.
In another recent case, jurors awarded $2.25 million – with $250,000 of that for punitive damages – for the 2011 fall of an 81-year-old dementia patient who was allowed to walk unassisted – despite being a fall risk – and fell hard, fracturing her shoulder and hip. She endured pain for months afterward without being able to understand why, and she ultimately died. The nursing home is appealing that decision.
In the $30 million case, decedent resided in a nursing home in a shared room with her husband in 2008 and 2009. In 2009, she developed pressure sores on her right foot. Those sores went down to the bone. Soon, those sores became infected with fecal bacteria. That led to it being necessary to amputate her leg. Two months later, she died.
After no settlement could be reached, the case went to a trial, which spanned five weeks. The jury found the nursing home liable for negligence, violation of the state’s adult protection act (including the creation of fraudulent records of her care) and medical malpractice. That resulted in a $1.9 million verdict for negligence and $129,000 for violations of state law. The $28 million in punitive damages involved $2 million for each of the four companies involved, plus $10 million each of the two owners.
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Court awards $30 million judgment against Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Aug. 19, 2016, By Kevin McKenzie, The Commercial Appeal
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