In its October 28, 2016 Findings Of Fact And Conclusions Of Law Affirming Punitive Damages regarding various nursing home companies and individuals who operated a Tennessee nursing home that a Tennessee jury determined were responsible for a resident’s death, the court affirmed the jury’s award of punitive damages against the entities and individuals that totaled $28 million.
The judge concluded: “Upon a review of the applicable Tennessee law, as well as the testimony and evidence presented at the trial of this cause, this Court finds that, for the reasons stated herein, the punitive damages verdict rendered against Defendants is appropriate considering all of the proof and the factors set forth in Hodges v. Toof.”
In order to support a claim for punitive damages in a Tennessee case, a plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the Defendants acted either intentionally, fraudulently, maliciously, or recklessly. “Clear and convincing evidence” leaves no serious or substantial doubt about the correctness of the conclusions drawn from the evidence, and should demonstrate that the truth of the facts asserted is highly probable as opposed to merely more probable than not.
The Hodges v. SC Toof & Company Punitive Damages Factors (833 S.W.2d 896 (Tenn. 1992))
The purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate the plaintiff but to punish the wrongdoer and to deter the wrongdoer and others from committing similar wrongs in the future.
The Hodges case sets forth nine factors that the jury in Tennessee is to consider, to the extent relevant, in determining an amount of punitive damages:
1. The financial affairs, condition and net worth of the Defendants;
2. The nature and reprehensibility of wrongdoing;
3. Defendants’ awareness of amount of harm caused and motivation in causing harm;
4. Duration of misconduct and whether Defendants attempted to conceal conduct;
5. Expenses plaintiff has borne in attempting to recover losses;
6. Whether Defendants’ profited greatly from the activity and whether the punitive award should be in excess of the profit to deter similar future behavior;
7. Any prior, punitive damages award against Defendants based upon same wrongful act;
8. Whether Defendants took remedial action or attempted to make amends upon learning of misconduct by offering a prompt and fair settlement for actual harm; and,
9. Any other relevant circumstances shown by the evidence.
Nonetheless, the size of the punitive award must not violate a defendant’s due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In Tennessee, the trial court must review the jury’s award of punitive damages and clearly set forth the reasons for decreasing or approving all punitive awards in findings of fact and conclusions of law demonstrating a consideration of all factors on which the jury is instructed.
In the Tennessee nursing home case before her, the trial judge carefully, thoughtfully, and exhaustively considered each of the nine Hodges factors, stating and discussing the facts in the case that supported each of the Hodges factors in her 44-page Findings Of Fact And Conclusions Of Law, concluding that the jury’s award of punitive damages, and the amounts of punitive damages awarded against each defendant, were appropriate and were supported by clear and convincing evidence.
Hatfield v. Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Circuit Court of Tennessee for the Thirtieth Judicial District at Memphis, Shelby County, Cause No. CT-004249-10 Division VII.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries, or worse, while a resident of a nursing home in Tennessee or in another U.S. state due to nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, or due to nursing home understaffing, you should promptly find a local nursing home claim lawyer in your U.S. state who may investigate your possible nursing home claim for you and file a nursing home claim on your behalf, if appropriate.
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