$90.5 Million Verdict Upheld in West Virginia Nursing Home Lawsuit

Proponents of reform in nursing home lawsuits are upset with a recent decision by a West Virginia County Circuit judge who decided to uphold a $90.5 million verdict in a nursing home negligence lawsuit as appropriate, thus denying a request for a new trial. The nursing home’s corporate owner claims the state’s medical malpractice cap on awards, which sits at $500,000, should have been applied, thus limiting the verdict.

According to reports, the plaintiff in the case was the son of an 87 year old woman who suffered from various conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and other health concerns. He had decided to place his mother at defendant’s nursing home temporarily, while the family waited for a space to open in another facility.

While the woman stayed at the defendant’s nursing home for only a short while, according to the lawsuit, by the time she was transferred to a hospice just a few weeks later she was unresponsive, 15 pounds lighter, and suffered quite substantially from dehydration. After only a handful of weeks at the new location, she passed away.

The lawsuit claimed that the nursing home provided unacceptable care for the plaintiff’s mother, and stated that she had suffered severe mouth sores, head trauma sustained from several falls, and that she was confined exclusively to a wheelchair throughout her stay. At trial, experts testified that the employees at the nursing home had not provided the woman with basic necessities such as basic nutritional needs, presumably as evidenced by her severe weight loss and dehydration.

The nursing home had claimed that the woman’s death was a result of her dementia, and not their neglect. However, the defendants had a history of citations and violations by state inspectors, and had lost Medicare and Medicaid funding for a temporary time period following dozens of such violations in 2011. The judge also noted that profit margins may have been kept high as a result of keeping the number of nurses and other aides as low as possible.

The original verdict was for $91.5 million, which included $80 million in punitive damages, and another $11.5 million in compensatory damages. The judge later reduced the overall amount, ruling that a small portion of the damage award fell within the $500,000 cap. The judge ruled that the $500,000 cap for malpractice damages were not applicable to the case overall because the home did not qualify as a health care provider under relevant state law.

In affirming the denial of a new trial, the judge wrote that a punitive damage award must be high in order to deter such a wealthy company from perpetuating a similar act in the future, and that, further, “This verdict sends a clear ‘deterrence’ message to a multi-billion dollar nursing home corporation that its misconduct will not be tolerated in West Virginia.”

Tragically, this case is an illustration of what can happen to residents in nursing home or assisted living facilities who fall victim to neglect. While there was no discussion of active mental or physical abuse, the facts as alleged paint a picture of an old frail woman, essentially left to starve and wither away, with her family not knowing what she was going through. If the facts alleged are true, she suffered a severe physical deterioration over an incredibly short period of time. The judge in the case reaffirms that the only way to send the message to wealthy nursing homes is to use punitive damages to send the message that nursing home abuse is not right. The elderly are human beings, and negligent care can literally kill them. How can you put a price on the life of a loved one?

If you suspect that an elderly friend or relative living in a nursing home or assisted living facility within the Maryland or the Washington D.C. areas might be suffering from nursing home neglect or abuse, contact the experienced nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers immediately. Our attorneys have many years of experience helping people in Maryland obtain redress for suffering caused by negligent care or abuse within nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Contact us today in order to schedule your complimentary and confidential initial consultation. We can assess your situation and advise you regarding how to best proceed. You can reach us by calling (800) 654-1949 or contact us through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Nursing Home Fined for Failing to Protect Residents from Sexual Predator, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published June 28, 2013
Potentially Egregious Case of Nursing Home Abuse under Investigation, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published June 21, 2013

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