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Supreme Court Reduces Award in Nursing Home Malpractice Case

The Supreme Court has recently reduced a high-profile medical malpractice verdict from $90 million to $32 million.

Tom Douglas, son of Dorothy Douglas, filed a lawsuit against the corporate owner of Heartland of Charleston for severe neglect that led to his mother’s death.

Dorothy Douglas was able to walk and communicate with her family when she was first admitted to the nursing home. A statement from her physician even predicted that she would likely live for several more years with proper care. All of that changed, however, over the duration of her stay at Heartland. Once an engaged woman in functional health, Dorothy Douglas was now dehydrated, malnourished, and sustained head trauma from several falls. She suffered from the nursing home’s abysmal care and gross neglect.

The nursing home listed dementia as her cause of death. Tom Douglas argues that it was not dementia, but  Heartland’s improper treatment that ended her life prematurely.

Kanawha county jury awarded $91.5 million to Douglas’ family. The reduction was prompted by Heartland’s claim that the amount was “excessive” and “unfair,” seeking instead to match West Virginia’s usual $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice suits.

Ben Bailey, representing  Manor Care Inc., argued that Heartland of Charleston, and other nursing homes under the same company, would be economically hindered by the verdict. Heartland only makes about $250,000 annually, so a $90 million suit would be detrimental.  But according to the Washington Times, Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. ruled that the verdict was appropriate, and that HCR Manor Care, the party actually paying for the verdict, had a history of short-staffing to maximize profit.

In the opinion on the ruling, Supreme Court Justices state that Manor care “is a multi-billion dollar entity with $125 million in punitive damages insurance coverage.” Certainly, $32 million remains a substantial amount and covers the profits made from reducing the necessary staff on duty.

The actions of Manor Care Inc. are reprehensible. The company has shown that it is not motivated by a basic sense of empathy for the most vulnerable members of our society. Dorothy Douglas is a heartbreaking example of the effects of the company’s greed.  It is the goal of nursing home abuse attorneys in the country and at our practice alike to prevent cases such as that of Dorothy Douglas. It is the hope that punitive measures such as these help to deter the misconduct of Manor Care Inc. and companies like it in the future.

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