On July 31, 2014, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (“Superior Court”) upheld a verdict from August 2012 against a nursing home and the health care network that controlled the nursing home for both compensatory and punitive damages that totaled $2,287,601. The jury found that the defendant nursing home was 80% responsible and the defendant health care network was 20% responsible. The jury also determined that the defendants conduct was “willful or wanton, or exhibited reckless indifference to the rights of the decedent.”
The Underlying Facts (In Brief)
A 67-year-old man had a medical history of bilateral above-the-knee amputations, diabetes mellitus, multiple strokes, transient ischemic attacks, Bells Palsy, dementia, depression, hypertension, incontinence, anemia, peripheral vascular disease, and mal-absorption. He was treated in various health care and nursing facilities in 2007. He was a resident of the defendant nursing home from June 4, 2007 to January 29, 2008, although he had several brief admissions to the hospital during that period of time. He died on May 5, 2008 while in the hospital. His death certificate lists the immediate cause of death as a severe end stage decubitus ulcer, skin breakdown, sepsis, failure to thrive, and metabolic encephalopathy.
A wrongful death/medical malpractice case was brought against the two defendants, and others. In addition to compensatory damages, the jury awarded punitive damages against the defendant nursing home in the amount of $400,000 and punitive damages against the defendant health care network in the amount of $100,000. The defendants appealed the entire verdicts against them.
The Superior Court stated that punitive damages are appropriate only in cases of outrageous behavior, where the defendant’s egregious conduct shows either an evil motive or reckless indifference to the rights of others. Punitive damages are appropriate when the defendant’s actions are of such an outrageous nature as to demonstrate intentional, willful, wanton, or reckless conduct. The state of mind of the tortfeasor is vital, and the act, or the failure to act, must be intentional, reckless, or malicious. A defendant acts recklessly when his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another and such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent. The determination of whether actions rise to outrageous conduct lies within the sound discretion of the fact-finder and will not be disturbed by an appellate court as long as that discretion has not been abused.
In affirming the punitive damages awarded by the jury, the Superior Court noted that the defendants were aware of the pervasive and routines failure at their facilities; that the defendants’ facilities were chronically and continuously understaffed (however, when the facilities had notice of governmental inspections, they provided appropriate staff levels); that the resident was routinely not repositioned, as required every two hours, and the defendants’ medical records for the decedent were so faulty that they revealed that he was allegedly repositioned at times when he was not even present at the facility; and, that the understaffing and failure to reposition the resident, despite his increasingly severe wounds, which were known to the defendants, caused the man’s death — that there was a definite and clear pattern of callous, wanton, and reckless action and inaction.
Furthermore, the Superior Court stated that nothing in the award of punitive damages shocked their sense of justice.
Camay E. Williams, Administratrix of the Estate of Marcel Mackey, Sr., Dec’d v. Willow Terrace, et al., No. 2856 EDA 2012. Click here to read the Superior Court’s opinion.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in Pennsylvania or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a local nursing home claim attorney (medical malpractice attorney) who may investigate your nursing home claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a case against a nursing home, if appropriate.
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