Nursing home abuse continues to be a problem in many states. Below is a summary of some of the recent events involving nursing home litigation that are making headlines across the country.
Florida legislators, led by Senator John Thraser, R-St. Augustine, are working this month to pass a new bill concerning nursing home litigation through the Florida state Senate. SB 670 would limit the potential defendants to a nursing home abuse lawsuit. The bill seeks to prevent those with only a passive interest in a nursing home from being exposed to legal liability. The law, if passed, will only allow nursing home operators, management, and caregivers to be named as defendants in a suit brought by nursing home residents or family members. Senator Thraser, R-St. Augustine, has said of the bill: “It won’t be some person [being sued] who is not in the nursing home and has no knowledge of its day-to-day operations.” Rather, the goal is to hold responsible those who actually had some role in the wrongdoing.
SB 670 is a companion bill to the House version backed by Representative Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. HB 569 received a unanimous vote last week. Detractors of the bill claim that the law strips nursing home residents of their rights by immunizing culpable parties.
Million Dollar WV Verdict
West Virginia’s state Supreme Court heard arguments in a seminal nursing home litigation case earlier this month. The case involves a $90 million verdict awarded to the family of a former nursing home resident by a jury in West Virginia. The family alleged that Heartland of Charleston nursing home employees neglected to feed and provide adequate care to Dorothy Douglas, and ultimately caused her death. The nursing home appealed the verdict.
The attorneys representing Heartland of Charleston argued before the West Virginia Supreme Court in early March claiming that the verdict is subject to the state’s medical malpractice damages cap and should therefore be reduced. The cap, codified in West Virginia’s Medical Professional Liability Act, states that plaintiffs alleging medical malpractice may recover no more than $500,000 in non-economic damages. Ms. Douglas’s attorneys argued that the cap should not apply because Ms. Douglas’ death was a result of ordinary negligence, not medical negligence. This was the jury’s conclusion as well (the jury found that 80% of the negligence that occurred was ordinary negligence, and only 20% was medical negligence).
The Court’s decision in this case is extremely significant. As Ben Bailey, one of the defense attorneys, put it, “[n]ursing home litigation . . . has come to a screeching halt until this case is decided.” The decision has the potential to change the way that all future nursing home abuse cases are treated in West Virginia.
Fines in Connecticut
Four Connecticut nursing homes were fined recently for instances of resident abuse and/or neglect. The Connecticut Department of Public Health fined Arden House of Hamden for an incident involving the physical abuse of a resident by a nurses’ aide. A second facility, Highlands Health Care Center, was fined in connection with two separate incidents: the first involving a resident who fell after being left unattended in a bathroom, and the second involving a resident who developed a pressure sore (or bed sore) on his heel while in the facility’s care. The third nursing home fined, Cassena Care of Norwalk, was cited for allowing a resident with dementia to fall while in the shower after becoming visibly agitated. Finally, St. Joseph’s Living Center, was fined for a situation involving a resident who was found bleeding on the ground after becoming confused and disoriented.
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