Trans Healthcare Inc. has been hit with a $1.1 billion verdict in a negligence case filed in 2009 at a Florida nursing home it says it hasn’t operated since 2004, reports The Ledger.
A Polk County jury awarded $110 million in compensatory damages and a whopping $1 billion in punitive damages for the 2009 lawsuit regarding the care of the late Arlene Townsend. Townsend lived at the Auburndale Oaks Healthcare Center from 2004 until 2007, when she passed away at the age of 69.
Townsend suffered multiple falls while at the facility, which did not provide proper supervision, according to the lawsuit, The Ledger reports. Trans Healthcare Inc., the defendant in the lawsuit, and Trans Healthcare Management only operated the nursing home until Sept. 30, 2004, according to court records. Auburndale is currently being operated by Encore Healthcare LLC.
“The companies stopped participating in the lawsuit, and a default judgment was entered against them in 2011,” says the article. “At trial, jurors were not asked to decide liability. They were asked to determine the amount of money in damages.”
Trans Healthcare Inc. asked for the default judgements to be set aside, but the circuit judge for the case denied the requests.
This is the fourth major verdict against Trans Healthcare Inc.: in 2010, another Polk County jury awarded a $114 million verdict against them for another nursing home case for alleged abuse, reports The Ledger. Additionally, there has been a $900 million verdict against the company in Gainesville and a $200 million verdict in St. Petersburg.
There have been other staggering monetary damages against nursing home corporations in recent years: In August 2011, a jury slammed HCR ManorCare with a $91.5 million judgment—$80 million of it for punitive damages—after finding that Heartland of Charleston, a West Virginia nursing home operated by the chain, failed to properly care for one of its residents who died shortly after a brief stay at the facility.
HCR ManorCare contested the verdict—which hinged on “ordinary negligence” more so than medical negligence— as excessive and unconstitutional, but a circuit judge has denied a new trial, writing that the award was done to “accomplish punishment and deterrence.”
“This verdict sends a clear ‘deterrence’ message to a multi-million dollar nursing home corporation that its misconduct will not be tolerated in West Virginia,” says the Circuit Court Garnes Order on Jury Award of Punitive Damages document, written by Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib Jr.
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More recently, Emeritus (NYSE:ESC) was found guilty of elder abuse and wrongful death in a lawsuit brought against the company by the family of a former resident who allegedly developed fatal pressure sores at an Emeritus-operated assisted living community.
The plaintiffs accused the senior living provider of company-wide philosophy of understaffing and cutting corners to save money, resulting in poor quality of care. The jury ultimately awarded the plaintiffs with a $23 million verdict.
Illinois nursing homes should be on their guard for an increase in malpractice lawsuits after the state broadened the definition of “neglect” under the Nursing Home Care Act (NHCA) and made it easier for attorneys to collect their fees, warn two healthcare practice lawyers.
More plaintiffs’ attorneys will be suing nursing homes based on residents’ Bill of Rights infringements if the facility’s corporate owners are perceived to cut corners in order to save money, predicts John Durso, JD, partner at Ungaretti & Harris and senior member of the Healthcare Practice Group.
For-profit nursing home chains may be most at risk for lawsuits with staggering monetary damages, based on examples in other states.
“Lawsuits will not shrink for plaintiffs,” Durso said during a panel on post-acute care providers during Life Services Network’s 2013 Conference and Expo a few weeks ago. “If anything, they’ll expand. There are going to be more plaintiffs’ claims because [attorneys] have the ability to collect attorneys’ fees from a skilled nursing provider if that skilled nursing facility is violating residents’ rights—even if there are no damages.”
Neglect was originally defined by the NHCA as a long-term care facility’s failure to provide adequate medical or personal care or maintenance, resulting in physical or mental injury or deterioration to a resident.
But in July 2010, Illinois broadened the definition of “neglect” to include a facility’s “failure to provide, or willful withholding of, adequate medical care, mental health treatment, psychiatric rehabilitation, personal care, or assistance with activities of daily living that is necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish, or mental illness of a resident.”
Under the new definition, says George Mesires, JD, partner at Ungaretti & Harris LLP, attorneys may not have to demonstrate that neglect actually resulted in an injury in order to recover their fees, as they previously were required to do. Now, demonstrating that a facility either failed to provide or withheld care that is necessary to avoid an injury can be sufficient for a plaintiff to recover attorneys fees.
“This subtle but important definitional change appears to lower the hurdle to recover attorneys fees on behalf of nursing home residents and will likely provide a further incentive for lawyers to prosecute cases on behalf of their nursing home clients,” Mesires told SHN.
Editor’s note: The Ledger contained some inaccuracies in its original reporting that appeared in SHN’s coverage of the case, including the wrong settlement amount ($110 million in compensatory damages versus $220 million) and listing Trans Health Management as a defendant, when it fact only Trans Healthcare Inc. was a defendant in the case.
Written by Alyssa Gerace