Nursing homes and assisted living facilities usually provide a safe environment for their elderly clients. However, nursing home abuse and neglect are more prevalent than we like to think. When a loved one suffers, we want to see that those responsible are punished.
A nursing home can be held liable for negligence if the injured party can prove:
- That the nursing home’s owner or employees breached a duty of care owed to the injured person
- That the person’s injury was caused by this breach
- That the nursing home owner’s or employee’s conduct caused the injury.
Often a lawsuit is the best way to hold perpetrators accountable.
By federal and state law, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities must abide by a standard of care outlined in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1987– also called the federal Nursing Home Reform Act. When facilities fail to meet the standards, families can file complaints with local law enforcement and local and state government agencies and file lawsuits against the owners and operators of the facilities.
Proving any and all of these factors is not always easy.
Uncovering Nursing Home Ownership
In addition, finding out who owns a nursing home can be difficult. Many companies go out of their way to operate under a number of names, making it difficult to find out who the facility owner really is. This also serves as a way for facilities to shield themselves them from regulators and liability. Attorneys who specialize in elder abuse cases can often help in this chore.
Often times a single company owns many nursing home facilities. The six largest providers each have more than 200 facilities and more than 22,000 beds:
|Genesis HealthCare Corp.||512||56,575|
|Life Care Centers of America||213||28,414|
|Consulate Health Care||210||22,059|
Damages Awarded in Settlements and Verdicts
In lawsuits for elder abuse, courts may consider compensatory damages in several categories, including medical expenses, pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement and violations of a nursing home resident’s dignity. Courts may also award punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant and deter similar behavior by that organization and others.
Not all lawsuits against nursing homes go to trial or a jury verdict. Many end in settlements, because a settlement limits the risk to the defendant and provides sure compensation to the plaintiffs. Information on settlements is often hard to come by, as settlement provisions may require both sides to keep information confidential, but notable settlements include:
S.W. v. Renaissance at Hillside, Inc.
A nursing home paid $2.8 million in 2005 to settle with a patient who developed painful bedsores because of neglect. Arlene Williams, 65, had experienced a stroke that left her unable to reposition herself. The nursing home’s employees admitted they were understaffed when they discovered four pressure sores on Williams’ back and feet, one of which took four years to eventually heal. The nursing home operator and two individual doctors settled before a verdict was rendered in a lawsuit filed by the victim’s family.
Jawor v. Brentwood Nursing Center
In 1999 Elizabeth Jawor, 87, was placed in a scalding sitz bath that a nurse had drawn using 185-degree water from an industrial coffee machine in the facility’s kitchen. Jawor suffered from second- and third-degree burns and was hospitalized. In 2002 the facility settled with her family for $1.5 million.
Among the suits that do go to a jury, damage awards vary. Juries may award compensatory damages, to compensate victims for the actual damage, and punitive damages, to punish the offender and act as discouragement for it and other organizations to behave in a similar manner.
Tom Douglas v. Manor Care, Inc.
One of the largest damage awards was a $91.5 million award in a West Virginia case that was reduced on appeal to $38 million, including more than $4 million in compensatory damages and almost $32 million in punitive damages. In that case, an 87-year-old woman named Dorothy Douglas died just weeks after admission to a nursing home. Her son Tom Douglas alleged negligence, accusing the facility of failing to properly feed and hydrate his mother, who suffered from dementia and other conditions.
Offutt vs. Harborside Healthcare
In 2009 the family of an elder man sued the operators of a nursing home in Madisonville, Ky., after 92-year-old Joseph Clint Offutt died nine days after being admitted. The family alleged neglect, saying the man became lethally dehydrated, and suffering from malnutrition, bedsores and infections. In 2010 a jury awarded $1 million for Offutt’s pain and suffering, $1.75 million for his wife’s loss and $40 million for punitive damages.
Estate of Sophia Maria Alcon v. South Pueblo Medical Investors, LTD
Another large nursing home abuse verdict came in the case of a Colorado woman, Sophia Alcon. Her family alleged that her nursing home’s neglect led to multiple infections, injuries and ultimately death. In 2016 a jury awarded her son $500,000 in damages related to Alcon’s death, $57,000 for negligence, and $5 million in punitive damages.
Estate of Burr Needham v. Mercy Memorial Nursing Center
In 2010, the family of a Michigan man named Burr Needham was successful in a suit that alleged negligence against nursing home staff that resulted in his death. The jury awarded the victim $1.5 million for pain and suffering, $3 million to the man’s wife for the loss of society and companionship she experienced in the loss of her husband, and $350,000 to the family for additional damages.
- National Center on Elder Abuse. Incidence and Prevalence of Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://ncea.acl.gov/whatwedo/research/statistics.html#prevalence
- The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (2007, December). Nursing Home Care Quality. Retrieved from https://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/7717.pdf
- Lawyers.com. Nursing Home Abuse. Retrieved from http://blogs.lawyers.com/attorney/nursing-home-litigation/nursing-home-abuse-6785/
- Lundstrom, Marjie and Reese, Phillip. (2014, November 8). Unmasked: How California’s largest nursing home chains perform. Retrieved from http://media.sacbee.com/static/sinclair/Nursing1c/index.html
- Provider Magazine. (2016, June). Top 50 Largest Nursing Facility Companies. Retrieved from http://www.providermagazine.com/reports/Documents/2016/0616_Top50.pdf
- Levin & Perconti. 65-year-old Stroke Patient Receives Record $3 Million Settlement From Suburban Nursing Home and Doctors Who Neglected Her. Retrieved from https://www.levinperconti.com/docs/press_release_-_arlenewilliams.pdf
- Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. (2002, February 13). Retrieved from https://www.levinperconti.com/files/chicago_daily_law_bulletin_021302.doc
- Harris, Linda. (2014, July 19). WV Supreme Court reduces $90 million damage award in Douglas family's suit against Heartland Nursing Home, corporate family. Retrieved from http://www.wearewvproud.com/story/25816500/wv-supreme-court-reduces-punitive-damages-in-douglas-familys-suit-against-heartland-nursing-home-corporate-family
- Honeycutt-Spears, Valarie. (2010, November 19). Family awarded $42.75 million in nursing home case. Retrieved from http://www.kentucky.com/news/special-reports/article44065065.html
- Mongan, Emily. (2016, May 17). Jury awards family $5.5 million in 'record-setting' wrongful death suit. Retrieved from http://www.mcknights.com/news/jury-awards-family-55-million-in-record-setting-wrongful-death-suit/article/497045/
- Reiter, Mark. (2010, June 29). Family wins $4.85 million for nursing home death. Retrieved from http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2010/06/29/Family-wins-4-85-million-for-nursing-home-death.html