In 2010, a man filed a nursing home neglect lawsuit against a West Virginia nursing home following the death of his mother in 2009. The woman stayed at the facility for 19 days, during which time she allegedly fell several times, was not given enough food or water, and lost 15 pounds. She died 18 days later in Hospice. Based on the information presented during trial, the jury awarded the woman's estate $91.5 million.
Attorneys for the nursing home asked to have the amount reduced based on a state law that caps non-economic medical malpractice awards at $500,000, but the victim's attorney argued that nursing homes were not covered by the award cap law. The judge ultimately decided the medical malpractice cap did apply to a small portion of the award and reduced it to $90.5 million. After the verdict and award reduction, defense attorneys still requested a new trial, arguing that the company's finances were grossly misrepresented during the trial, making it look like its income was much greater than it really is. But the circuit judge denied their request for a new trial, and the case is now headed to the West Virginia Supreme Court.
The defense is hoping to convince the high court that the nursing home is covered by the Medical Professional Liability Act (MPLA), which was enacted in West Virginia in 1986 and amended in 2002 in response to a lack of malpractice coverage available to medical professionals in the state. This law limits the amount a victim can be awarded for non-economic damages in a medical malpractice case. Ever since MPLA was enacted there has much debate on whether or not nursing homes are covered since they are not necessarily medical professionals. The State of West Virginia is in the process of passing a new amendment that specifically includes nursing homes under the MPLA, which proponents of the bill say is what was intended when the original bill was passed over 20 years ago.
However, even if this most recent amendment passes, plaintiff's attorneys in the case above say the majority the $90 million award would not be affected. When the jury awarded the damages, they based it on their decision that 20% of the negligence was medical negligence and 80% was ordinary negligence. This was most likely based on the factors that allegedly contributed to the victim's death. For example, the plaintiff claimed that dehydration was one cause of the victim's death. Providing sufficient water to someone or neglecting to do so is not medical in nature, so that could be considered ordinary negligence. And because the MPLA only covers medical negligence, the majority of the verdict would still stand, even if the Supreme Court agrees with the attorneys for the nursing home.
Here in Kentucky, there are no caps on medical malpractice awards, so fortunately this issue does not arise. However, if you or a loved one are injured by a medical professional or during a stay at a nursing home, it is important to contact a Kentucky medical malpractice attorney to determine how to best proceed with your case.
$90 million nursing home verdict called ‘a deafening amount;' Charleston Daily Mail; Cheryl Caswell; June 28, 2012
$90.5 million verdict to head to WV Supreme Court; The State Journal; Andrea Lannom; April 15, 2013