On October 20, 2011, a West Virginia circuit court judge upheld over $90 million of the $91.5 million in damages awarded to a man in connection to the death of his 87-year-old mother.
Tom Douglas placed his mother in the Heartland of Charleston Nursing Home temporarily in September 2009. She suffered from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease and was waiting for a room to open at Heritage Center, a facility that Mr. Douglas felt was better equipped to care for her. After three weeks at Heartland of Charleston, the victim was moved to Heritage Center where nurses noticed sores and bruises on her body, and she appeared to be dehydrated. She was also unresponsive. The next day, she died in Cabell Huntington Hospital. The cause of death, the suit alleges, was dehydration.
Mr. Douglas filed a negligence lawsuit against Heartland of Charleston Nursing Home. Negligence occurs when one party does not fulfill its duty to another party, resulting in injury to the second party. In this case, the duty of the nursing home and its staff was to provide proper care to the victim, but they neglected to do so, resulting in her deteriorating condition and eventual death.
The damages award in this case is broken into two types, compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for lost income, pain and suffering, and medical costs. The compensatory damages were $11 million originally in this case. Punitive damages are awarded to the plaintiff as a punishment to the defendant in the hopes that the defendant will not act in the same manner again. The punitive damages were $80 million.
Medical negligence cases have caps on their compensatory awards, which means only a certain amount can be awarded to the plaintiff in each case. In West Virginia, the cap on non-economic damages in medical negligence cases is $500,000. When the jury awarded $91.5 million to Mr. Douglas, the defendants filed a proposed order seeking to reduce the $11 million compensatory award to the $500,000 cap. Lance Reins, attorney for the plaintiff, pointed out that throughout the trial the attorneys for the nursing home kept telling the court they were not medical care providers so the damages should be awarded according to the Nursing Homes Act, which does not cap damages. Only after the damages were awarded did the nursing home attorneys wish to have their clients considered medical care providers to take advantage of the $500,000 limit. The jury in this case decided that only 20 percent of the negligence by Heartland of Charleston was medical, so only $1 million of the entire award was subject to the cap. The judge reduced the amount by about $400,000. The $80 million punitive award remained the same.
Many critics argue that the awards like this are too high and that they discourage individuals from going into the nursing home business. Proponents say the high damage awards are based on the profits these large companies make and help to deter them from allowing these situations to occur in the future. If you or a loved one have been in this situation, please contact a Kentucky nursing home negligence attorney at Miller & Falkner.
Judge Affirms $90 Million Charleston Nursing Home Verdict; The Charleston Gazette; Zac Taylor; October 20, 2011
Care Home's Neglect was Fatal, Lawyers Argue; The Charleston Gazette; Zac Taylor; July 26, 2011
Nursing Home Verdict Reduced Slightly; Daily Mail; Cheryl Caswell; October 21,2011