Last month, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld a punitive damages verdict in a wrongful death and survival action against a Philadelphia area nursing home. Dubose v. Quinlan et al. (Willowcrest Nursing Home), October 23, 2015.
The underlying facts of this case highlight just how devastating fall injuries are for the elderly and how quickly immobility can lead to bed sores, an often fatal condition for nursing home residents with serious medical conditions.
In this case, the plaintiff’s spouse suffered serious injuries as the result of a fall accident at home. She was then admitted to a nursing home with various medical conditions, including diabetes, Stage II bed sores, etc. Her physician ordered a flexor bed and frequent repositioning (1-2 hour cycle) to alleviate the bed sores.
However, evidence was presented showing that the physician’s orders were not followed. Hence, the bed sores progressed, and the resident suffered from additional bed sores on her shin, heels, etc. At the time of her death, she had at least 10 bed sores. Evidence was also presented showing that the resident was malnourished and dehydrated and also suffered from bone infection and sepsis. She ultimately died due to organ failure. Following a jury trial, the plaintiff (estate) was awarded over $1.1 million dollars on the wrongful death/survival action, and nearly $900,000 for punitive damages.
The defendant (nursing home owner) filed a post trial motion for Judgement Notwithstanding the Verdict (JNOV). A JNOV motion asks the trial judge to overturn a trial verdict on the grounds that the facts are such that no two minds could disagree that the verdict was improper. The trial court all but denied the nursing home owner’s motion and upheld the verdict.
Punitive Damages Claims in Nursing Home Abuse/Neglect Lawsuits
The nursing home owner argued that there were no facts which supported the punitive damages verdict. The Superior Court found that the evidence at trial was sufficient to support the punitive damages verdict:
- the development of numerous festering bed sores,
- the resident suffered conscious pain due to the bed sores,
- the resident was dehydrated, and
- the resident suffered from malnutrition.
In addition, there was evidence that the nursing home used a licensed practical nurse to provide wound care, a violation of the Nurse Practice Act (63 P.S. Section 211 et seq.), as well as evidence that the resident had at least 10 bed sores and had developed sepsis.
This case certainly stands for the proposition that punitive damages are allowed in nursing home cases, even without any intentional misconduct or fraud, which is usually the type of conduct required to support a claim for punitive damages.
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