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$91.5 Million Nursing Home Verdict Stands

Senior neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report that, nearly two years ago, a jury awarded the family of a deceased nursing home resident $91.5 million. The facility’s corporate owner attempted to appeal, however a judge recently decided that the size of the award was appropriate, and that malpractice caps do not apply to nursing home cases.

The initial lawsuit was filed in 2009 by the family of an 87-year-old woman who died from dehydration just 19 days after being admitted to the nursing home. The West Virginia woman, Dorothy Douglas, suffered from severe dehydration and kidney failure before her death, which her family claims was the result of the facility’s significant understaffing.

The woman suffered from dementia and Parkinson’s, and it was noted in her care plan that she required assistance feeding and hydrating. In addition to the kidney failure and dehydration, the suit also details the woman suffered head trauma from multiple falls and developed sores in her mouth that required scraping away by a scalpel – all occurring less than 20 days after she arrived at the nursing home.

The $91.5 million was decided to punish HCR for failing to adequately staff its nursing homes, which was done in order to increase profit margins. During the trial, experts stated that HCR failed to give the woman proper food, water, and medical care. The jury agreed, and awarded the family $80 million in punitive damages and $11.5 million in compensatory damages.

HCR attempted to appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court, arguing that the state’s medical malpractice cap applied to this verdict; caps in West Virginia for non-economic damages are only $500,000. Plaintiffs argued that the malpractice caps were intended only for physicians, never meant to apply so broadly to cover such facilities as nursing homes and their parent companies.

The County Circuit Judge who initially resided over the case decided that the malpractice caps did not apply because HCR does not quality as a health care provider. It once again intends to appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.

HCR enjoyed a profit of $75 million in 2009, the year the resident passed away. Two years later, the nursing home that was responsible for her death lost its Medicare and Medicaid funding after state inspectors found several serious violations.

In a related story, the family of a woman who died at an Ohio nursing home recently sued the facility for wrongful death. The resident walked out of the facility, Grace Woods in Ohio, in 2012, became lost, and eventually died of hypothermia. The suit alleged that the facility and one of its employees was negligent in its supervision of the resident, and failed to give her adequate, appropriate and timely medical care consistent with the program for which he was paying for.

At the time the resident walked out of the facility, only one nurse was on staff to monitor more than 30 residents. The lawsuit claimed that the resident suffered greatly from the negligence of the nursing home, which included injuries to her head, arms, knees, emotional and mental anguish, humiliation, loss of dignity, and ultimately loss of life. The Ohio Department of Health conducted an investigation into the facility and determined that it constituted a real and present danger to residents.

Elder abuse and neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight these stories to make the public aware of the very real dangers of understaffing in nursing homes. If your loved one is in a long-term facility, and you notice signs such as malnutrition, wandering off the property, bedsores, or dehydration, contact a skilled attorney as soon as possible, as you may be entitled to significant compensation through a nursing home negligence lawsuit.