As we previously discussed, a jury decided in August that the family of Dorothy Douglas, who
died from neglect at ManorCare’s Heartland of Charleston facility in 2009, should receive $11.5
million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages. She was deprived of
proper hydration that led to her death. Staff failed to make sure she had enough water and
that she was eating properly. On several occasions, Douglas told his mother’s nurse aides that the woman was not getting enough to drink, and asked them to make sure she had water next to her bed at all times. 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.
However, a circuit judge has now entered a judgment order reducing a portion of a $91.5 million
jury award. The order reduces a $5 million segment of that award to a maximum of $4,594,615.
At issue is whether a 2003 state law arbitrarily limiting medical malpractice awards to $500,000
should apply to a simple negligence action against a nursing home. The caps, which state
lawmakers instituted under West Virginia’s Medical Professional Liability Act, prevent victims alleging medical malpractice from recovering more than $500,000 in non-economic damages. Heartland and parent company ManorCare, believes the case is subject to those caps because nursing homes are medical providers. But making sure a resident has enough water is not a medical decision. Such verdicts call attention to improper care in some nursing homes and are warranted based on the profits large companies report.
The defense lawyers also complain that multiple legal errors were made during the trial —
including a misstatement of the earnings of the home’s umbrella corporation. The jury was told
that HCR Manor Care made $4 billion in profits in 2009 based on a tax return statement from
that year but that was gross revenue. Defendants also argue that the verdict form the jury used during the trial did not specify damages for each defendant named in the suit, and instead lumped them together, denying their rights of having a separate determination of liability. The verdict form also directed the jurors to give a $5 million award to Douglas’ sister Carolyn Douglas Hoy, who wasn’t named as a party in the lawsuit, see more malpractice cases.