A West Virginia jury awarded $90.5 million in damages to a family who alleged nursing home abuse and neglect back in 2010. The nursing home has taken the case to the West Virginia Supreme Court once already, according to an article in West Virginia’s State Journal. And this time, they’re arguing that the state’s Medical Professional Liability Act (MPLA) should require the court to apportion damages in their favor.
This case could have important implications for nursing home abuse damages in California. While the West Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling won’t bind California courts, it may set the tone for the ways in which damages are approached and apportioned in nursing home abuse cases.
Details of the Nursing Home Neglect
In 2010, 87-year-old Dorothy Douglas died while in the care of a West Virginia nursing home. That same year, Tom Douglas, the victim’s son, filed a claim against Manor Care Inc., HCR Manor Care Services Inc., Healthcare and Retirement Corp. of America LLC, and Heartland Employment Services LLC. He alleged that his mother died because of severe dehydration and malnutrition while in the nursing home.
The nursing home argued instead that Dorothy Douglas died as a result of her dementia, and not from dehydration or malnutrition. The nursing home explained that she had been transferred to a hospice facility 18 days before her death due to her dementia-related health decline.
Jury Awards Whopping Verdict for Tom Douglas
When the case went to trial in Kanawha County Circuit Court, the jury awarded Tom Douglas (and his family) $91.5 million. In so doing, it found that the nursing home had been “responsible for ordinary and medical negligence,” and that it violated its fiduciary duties and portions of the Nursing Home Act in the state.
The jury awarded $11 million for the death itself, or compensatory damages, and $80 million in punitive damages. Punitive damages aren’t typically awarded to compensate the victim in a case, but rather to deter the defendant from engaging in this kind of conduct in the future. In many ways, punitive damages are a way for the jury to punish a defendant who has committed an especially bad act. Due to statutory caps on certain damages, the Kanawha County circuit judge reduced the award to $90.5 million.
The Nursing Home’s Appeals
The nursing home appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court for a write of prohibition, arguing that there had been an error in the jury verdict form. If granted, a writ of prohibition could prevent enforcement of the Kanawha County Circuit Court’s order, which didn’t include this specific jury verdict form on the record. The West Virginia Supreme Court found in favor of the nursing home, allowing them to add their proposed verdict form to the record.
Now, the nursing home is appealing to the West Virginia Supreme Court again, but this time to reduce Douglas’s damages. The nursing home contends that the MPLA “supercedes the Nursing Home Act.” At the original trial, Douglas argued that damage caps through the MPLA wouldn’t apply because the majority of the jury’s damages were for ordinary negligence, and not medical negligence specifically. However, if the MPLA were to be applied in this case, the medical negligence damages would have to be capped at $594,000. This is significantly less than the jury’s original award. The nursing home makes a few other claims as well, including that damages were incorrectly awarded to Douglas’s daughter, who wasn’t named as a party in the lawsuit.
While we’ll have to wait to see how the West Virginia Supreme Court decides, experienced nursing home abuse attorneys are available to speak to you today about nursing home neglect and abuse in California. If you or an elderly loved one have been neglected or abused in a nursing home, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact us today.
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