PA Judge Allows Punitive Damages in Nursing Home Bedsore Case

A Pennsylvania judge allowed a lawsuit against a nursing home seeking punitive damages over a patient’s pressure ulcer to proceed to trial, according to Law360.com. The lawsuit, filed in 2016, alleges that a nursing home’s reckless behavior allowed for a resident to develop multiple pressure sores. Sadly, these pressure ulcers, now referred to as pressure injuries, caused the nursing home resident’s death only months afterward.

The nursing home resident, Mary Ann Miller, entered the nursing home in November 2015 after a broken hip. According to nursing home regulations, Miller’s broken hip and resulting immobility qualified her as “high-risk” for developing pressure ulcers, or bedsores. Unfortunately, the nursing home did not sufficiently monitor Miller, who was originally only intended for a short-term stay while her hip healed. Unable to move and not properly cared for by the retirement home, Miller developed multiple pressure ulcers on her back and heels. After causing the pressure ulcers through its negligence, the lawsuit further alleges the nursing home failed to adequately treat the bedsores.

Tragically, Miller passed away after a short four months at the nursing home. An autopsy report concluded that the bedsores caused the death of the woman. Perhaps even worse, the nursing home then falsified medical records in a brazen attempt to escape culpability. The fraudulent activity after Miller’s death, however, seems to have had the opposite effect.

Punitive damages are typically reserved for acts of particularly egregious conduct, beyond just mere carelessness or recklessness. An award for punitive damages is beyond the amount required to compensate the victim – or in this case, the victim’s family – and allow for a jury to “send a message” to the person, corporation, or retirement home about the appalling nature of its actions. In New York, the the PHL 2801-d allows for punitive damages to be recovered in cases “where the deprivation of any
such right or benefit is found to have been willful or in reckless disregard of the lawful rights of the patient, punitive damages may be assessed.”

In Miller’s lawsuit, the judge found that the nursing home’s behavior was particularly egregious for two reasons – not only had they negligently caused the death of Miller, but then engaged in an operation to conceal their behavior. The judge noted that administrators and nursing staff were involved in the cover-up, a brazen attempt to defraud Miller’s family of a legal recourse for the damages caused by the death of their loved one. The trial to determine the nursing home’s culpability and the exact amount of damages that should be awarded to the Miller will begin this fall.

Contact Gallivan & Gallivan if you or a loved one has suffered due to a pressure injury / bedsore.

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