People place an immense amount of trust in nursing homes, handing over primary care of their mothers, fathers or grandparents to the personnel at these facilities. Tom Douglas was one of those individuals. He took his mother Dorothy to the Heartland of Charleston nursing home facility in West Virginia, trusting them with the temporary care of his 87 year-old mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and a variety of other maladies.
Douglas was waiting for a spot at another nursing home to open up, and he certainly did not anticipate that his mother’s short stay at the Heartland home would eventually kill her. After a mere few weeks at the facility, however, Dorothy’s health drastically deteriorated. The normally energetic woman was now largely unresponsive. Already frail, she also dropped a quick 15 pounds during her stay.
Douglas claimed that his mother also became severely dehydrated and had suffered head trauma from falling at the home. Her rapid decrease in health eventually led to Dorothy’s demise, not long after she entered Heartland.
Citing negligence, Douglas proceeded to file suit against the home. In the lawsuit, he claimed that the nursing home was severely understaffed. . In fact, experts testified that the facility failed to tend to the patients’ most fundamental needs, like food and water.
The corporate owner of the nursing home, HCR Manor Care, fought back, stating that negligence was not a factor in the woman’s death, attributing it to the woman’s dementia.
The West Virginia jury sided with Douglas, awarding him $91.5 million in wrongful death damages, including $11.5 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages. The latter damages were awarded to punish Heartland, which had several previous violations cited by state inspectors.
West Virginia limits medical malpractice damages to $500,000. HCR Manor Care rebutted by saying that the verdict, therefore, should have been reduced to $500,000 at most. Judge Zakaib rejected their claim, saying that the verdict sends a message to nursing homes that “misconduct will not be tolerated.”
HCR Manor Care plans to appeal to the West Virginia State Supreme Court.
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