Tennessee Court of Appeals Tosses $28M Punitive Damage Award in Fatal Nursing Home Neglect Case
Nursing home abuse and neglect is a serious problem in Tennessee. Understaffed and improperly managed facilities often fail to provide the legally mandated standard of care. And when residents sustain serious injuries–or die–as a result of such mistreatment, the negligent parties need to be held accountable.
Court Holds Parent Companies Not Liable for Nursing Home’s Understaffing
Unfortunately, accountability is often easier said than done. On August 6, 2018, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed part of a jury verdict against several defendants in a lawsuit arising from a fatal case of nursing home neglect. The appeals court let some of the defendants off-the-hook entirely, while ordering a new trial on damages.
The victim was an elderly woman who suffered from dementia and suffered a stroke that “rendered her largely immobile and reliant on substantial care” at the nursing home, according to court records. A month after the stroke, a “pressure wound was discovered” on the victim’s foot, which eventually led to the partial amputation of the victim’s leg. The victim subsequently died approximately two months after the amputation.
The victim’s estate, acting on behalf of her legal heirs, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home, its parent companies, individual members of those parent companies, and the company that provided administrative services for the facility. During a five-week trial, jurors heard testimony about the “lack of care” received by the victim due to understaffing and poor management. Several former staffers at the nursing home testified that residents including the victim “were often not properly turned or found sitting in their own urine or feces.” These staffers further said management was aware of the problems but “made efforts to conceal the understaffing during state surveys.”
The jury ultimately held all of the defendants were “jointly and severally liable” for the victim’s death. The jury awarded $1.096 million in damages for negligence, another $129,000 for violating the Tennessee Adult Protection Act, and $28 million in punitive damages.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals said the jury was wrong to hold the nursing home’s parent companies and individual owners directly liable for the victim’s death, as they were not responsible for the nursing home’s day-to-day operations. Nor could they be held “vicariously liable” for the nursing home’s negligence. And since the award of punitive damages was largely based on the jury’s incorrect findings of negligence against these parties, the Court of Appeals said it had to also had to reverse the damage award. However, the estate is permitted to seek punitive damages against the remaining defendants at a new trial, as there was sufficient evidence that the nursing home “consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk and that their disregard constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care.”
Contact a Tennessee Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect Lawyer Today
No amount of damages can ever bring back a loved one whose life was cut short by the negligence of a nursing home operator. But it is still important to seek justice against those persons and businesses that exploit the elderly for their own gain. If you need advice or assistance from a qualified Clinton personal injury lawyer, contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette today.