Proving damages is an essential part of any Maryland nursing home claim. In a recent case before a federal appeals court, the court upheld a punitive damages award of over $4 million in a case where the compensatory damages award totaled just $650,000.
The Facts of the Case
In that case, the plaintiffs brought three wrongful death claims against a nursing home after three residents died at the home. The nursing home had a special “vent unit” for ventilator-dependent patients. The plaintiffs claimed that the three residents, who were ventilator-dependent patients, died because of the nursing home’s inadequate staffing and inadequate supplies.
One resident received an anoxic brain injury during the night and was found with his ventilator and all his alarms turned off. Another patient was found dead with her breathing apparatus pulled from her neck and without an alarm or oxygen monitor. Both deaths were found to be caused by understaffing. The third resident died because staff was not able to replace her tracheostomy tube in a timely manner due to a lack of supplies. The case went to trial and the jury awarded the plaintiffs $650,000 total in compensatory damages, and also awarded each plaintiff $1,523,939.16 in punitive damages.
The defendants argued that the award of punitive damages was not supported by the evidence, but a federal appeals court upheld the punitive damages award. The evidence at trial showed that state law required the nursing home to have a registered nurse and a nurse aide working in the vent unit at all times, and to provide at least five and a half hours of a nursing care per day to each patient. However, the nursing home did not have a registered nurse on staff during the night shift and often provided less than five hours of nursing care per day. Moreover, multiple employees testified that the nursing home’s management was repeatedly warned that the staffing levels posed a danger, but that it insisted on cutting staff to cut costs despite the warnings. The nursing home also fired employees who resisted the management’s push to cut staff and replaced them with employees who would cut costs. The plaintiff’s’ expert testified that the understaffing saved the nursing home $1,523,939.16 in one year. The nursing home also reduced spending on supplies, resulting in inadequate supplies.
The court found that the plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to award punitive damages. The nursing home’s administrator drastically cut back on staff, and the nursing home’s policy was to cut staffing to save money. Therefore, the home could be held liable for the conduct and the punitive damages award could stand.
Compensatory damages in a Maryland personal injury claim are meant to compensate the plaintiff for the plaintiff’s injuries. Such damages usually include medical expenses and lost wages, and emotional distress. Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, can be assessed in addition to compensatory damages in some cases. Punitive damages can be awarded if a plaintiff proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongful act at issue. The purpose of awarding punitive damages is to punish a defendant and to deter other parties from engaging in similar conduct.
Contact a Maryland Nursing Home Attorney
If your loved one was injured at a Maryland nursing home and you believe it may be at fault, contact a nursing home attorney as soon as possible. Nursing home residents are entitled to proper care, and a nursing home attorney can help you determine whether to pursue a lawsuit against the facility. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, we have nearly two decades of experience representing victims throughout Maryland and Washington, D.C. For a free consultation, contact us at 1-800-654-1949 or 410-654-3600 or by filling out our online form.
More Blog Posts:
Study Reveals Dangers of Unlicensed Care Facilities, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published August 31, 2018.
Allegations of Abuse in Maryland Nursing Homes, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published September 7, 2018.