NURSING HOME ABUSE: State Supreme Court Allows High Penalties
Nursing homes and elderly care providers that "recklessly endanger" the elderly will face stiffer penalties under a ruling handed down by the California Supreme Court yesterday. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that offending nursing homes would not be protected by the state's cap on compensation for medical negligence. Kay Delaney sued Meadowood nursing home under the state's malpractice law and another "statute intended to deter elder abuse," charging that it neglected her mother, who died four months after entering the home with "bedsores so severe that her skin had been eaten to the bone." The Los Angeles Times reports that witnesses testified that Rose Wallien "had been left lying in her feces and urine for long periods because the home was understaffed."
The Times reports that "[r]egardless of whether the malpractice or the elder abuse law applies, compensation for pain and suffering is limited to $250,000." But under the elder abuse law, the defense must "pay attorney fees and court costs in addition to the jury award." A Superior Court jury had awarded Delaney $150,000 for her mother's pain and suffering as well as $218,000 for her legal expenses, which had been challenged by the nursing home. Although the high court's ruling clears the way for the full amount to be paid in this case, the court "took pains to limit its ruling" to cases of elder abuse where reckless negligence occurs. While the ruling was seen as a win for patients' rights advocates, it was denounced by defense attorney George Murphy, who predicted it will drive nursing homes "out of business or force them to charge a lot more" to offset the cost of high insurance rates (Dolan, 3/5).