In the death of resident of a West Virginia nursing home, the Supreme Court of that state heard oral arguments on March 5th in an appeal that resulted from a $90 million award for nursing home neglect. The suit was the result of poor care given to an 87-year-old woman. The son of the woman sued the governing corporation and alleged that, along with other assertions, she died from severe dehydration. The death certificate lists the cause of death as "dementia."
The claimants sued under to West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act (MPLA) that has a cap of $500,000 for non-economic damages. They were initially awarded $91.5 million dollars, however the judge reduced the amount by $1.5 million due to the medical malpractice cap. The motion for a new trial was denied.
The jury award was of 80 percent for ordinary negligence and 20 percent in medical negligence. The MPLA's cap of $500,000 doesn't apply to ordinary negligence. The issue of applying or not applying this cap to the amount awarded in this case is of great importance. If the court finds that the cap applies and is the only remedy, then the award of $90 million could be reduced to $500,000.
The overriding question of whether the negligence toward the resident is ordinary or medical negligence could possibly decide the economic damage toward future cases involving the nursing home industry in this state.
Other issues will also be decided in this case by the Supreme Court such as whether it was right to allow the jury to take into consideration the wealth of the corporation being sued. The defense was allowed to instruct the jury to send a message and also told the jury that the company was a multi-billion dollar earner.
Many lessons can be learned from this case. West Virginia law says that violation of a statute is prima facie (evidence that establishes a fact) of negligence. The jury was told that a violation of the National Health Care Act gives the presumption of negligence. The individual corporation needs to examine carefully whether it is viable to challenge the claim of negligence because the appeals process is so structured, and many federal laws are in place that regulate the industry as a whole.
If you were injured or lost a loved one to nursing home neglect or abuse here in West Virginia, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your rights and your options for securing peace of mind.
Source: Lexology, "Nursing home appeals $90 million jury award" Alan C. Horowitz, Mar. 24, 2014