The Pennsylvania House narrowly passed a bill this week that would restrict the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded as a result of nursing home neglect or abuse. Passed by a vote of 103 to 89, the proposed legislation would restrict the amount of punitive damages to no more than 200% of the amount of compensatory damages that are awarded in medical malpractice claims against long-term care facilities (nursing homes), personal care homes, and assisted living facilities. The proposed restriction on punitive damages would not apply for intentional misconduct or unlawful acts.
Since punitive damages are meant to punish “egregious” conduct and to be an incentive to act as civilized society requires, many Democratic legislators voted against the bill that many Republican legislators touted as a heath care cost-containing effort. The Republican leadership used the often-used catch phrases “frivolous lawsuits” and “deep pocket lawsuits” when describing the preclusive intent of the proposed legislation. The proposed legislation now goes to the Pennsylvania Senate for consideration.
We see major problems with the proposed Pennsylvania legislation. For example, if a 95-year-old nursing home resident dies as a result of egregious conduct by the nursing home staff (such as failing to suction a patient on a ventilator that directly causes the patient to choke to death on his own saliva despite the nursing home’s assurances to the patient’s family that the proper ventilator care could be, and would be, provided), the compensatory damages would be minimal — there would be no medical expenses to be recovered by the resident’s surviving spouse related to the egregious conduct because the resident’s unattended but painful death did not require further medical care, and the compensation for the resident’s loss of remaining life expectancy would likely be minimal because of the resident’s age. Therefore, the restrictive cap on punitive damages in the amount of 200% of compensatory damages would result in the nursing home knowing ahead of time that it would be exposed to very limited punitive damages for its egregious conduct, which would be a very powerful disincentive to the nursing home to provide the proper (and promised) medical care or to avoid egregious conduct by its employees.
Because one of the most powerful and legitimate goals of allowing punitive damages awards is to provide a monetary incentive to avoid future egregious acts that cause substantial injuries to others, severely restricting the amount of punitive damages destroys that goal.
The vast majority of nursing homes in the United States are for-profit businesses owned by individuals or corporations whose primary goal is to maximize the profits for their shareholders. If they can cut corners and spend less money by reducing their staffing, putting off necessary maintenance for their medical equipment, by providing less training and educational opportunities for their staff, or by providing lower quality generic medications or lower quality institutional meals for their residents, the savings go into their pockets. If the powerful incentive of possible exposure to substantial punitive damages if they fail to remain above-board or fail to provide the necessary level of promised care and services is severely limited, as the Pennsylvania lawmakers’ proposed legislation is drafted, then the health and well-being of the most vulnerable, our nursing home residents, are placed at serious risk.
We urge our Pennsylvania brethren to contact their state representatives to implore them to vote against the proposed Pennsylvania legislation that places the profits of wealthy individuals and corporations over the needs and rights of people.
If you or a loved one have been injured as the result of inadequate or negligent medical care in a nursing home or by nursing home abuse or neglect, the services of a medical malpractice attorney may help you receive the justice that you deserve.
Visit our website by clicking here to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your state who may be willing and able to bring a medical malpractice case on your behalf for the wrongs that you have suffered. You may also call us toll free at 800-295-3959.
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