Lawyers for a West Virginia nursing home are preparing to take a case to the state’s Supreme Court on the grounds that a $91.5 million jury award should be reduced under the state’s medical malpractice law.
In August, after a two week trial, a Kanawha County jury awarded the family of Dorothy Douglas $11.5 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages after finding the Heartland of Charleston nursing home of indirectly causing the women’s death.
The family claimed the Douglas died from complications from dehydration after being transferred to the nursing home three weeks earlier. At the trial, Douglas’ lawyers claimed the nursing home did not have enough staff members, an assertion backed by former employees who said due to the poor working conditions they could not properly care for residents.
Brian Glasser, with the law firm of Bailey & Glasser, said the jury erred in awarding $11.5 million in compensatory damages, in punitive damages, which he said should fall under the state’s medical malpractice law.
In 2003, the state legislature amended the law to place a cap of $500,000, plus inflationary adjustments, on non-economic damages for medical negligence. In June, the state Supreme Court ruled that the cap was constitutional.
Douglas’ lawyers, however, are arguing the cap does not apply to nursing homes and nursing home aides.
Heartland’s lawyers dismissed the argument, saying that Douglas’ lawyers are just looking for a loophole in the law, pointing to the legislature’s finding of facts.
In the findings, the legislature found that the high cost of medical liability coverage were ‘leading some facilities to consider dropping medical liability insurance coverage altogether and the medical liability insurance crisis for nursing homes may soon result in a reduction of the number of beds available to citizens in need of long-term care.’
As for the $80 million in compensatory damages, Glasser said it far exceeds what the facts of the case justify.
‘The West Virginia Supreme Courts has issued guidance limiting punitive damages to certain levels based on the actual harm caused to the plaintiff,’ he said. ‘The jury’s $80 million award in punitive damages alone in this case exceeds those standards.’
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