The News Tribune reported this week on developments in an important Illinois nursing home neglect case. The underlying issue is heartbreaking. It involves a county nursing home in which at least ten female residents were sexually assaulted by another former resident. Four nursing home neglect lawsuits were filed in the aftermath of the incidents against the county itself which runs the facility.
According to the report, the aggressive resident allegedly had a history of sexual abuse. Facility owners, operators, and caregivers knew or should have known about that tendency. The nursing home failed to protect the other residents, resulting in the harm to the victims Four suits were eventually brought, with the one subject to this appeal filed late October 2009. The other three cases were settled. Seven individual counts were listed in the complaint, seeking recovery for damages for the facility’s failure to protect the vulnerable resident who was attacked by the abuser.
However, the plaintiff in the case faced a setback when the trial court judge threw out the suit pursuant to defense arguments that the facility had immunity from tort claims.
Of course immunity refers to special legal protections afforded to an individual or entity from legal claims against it. When one has immunity, the legal case cannot be brought at all, regardless of the merits or the evidence presented which suggests negligence or misconduct.
However, there is frequently disagreement about the scope of immunity in many circumstances. Public entities are the most common bodies to have some sort of immunity. Generally these immunity rules are dictated by statutes, where a state grants immunity to itself and it components (like a county) for various types of legal claims. The law is usually never “all or nothing.” The immunity only applies to certain kinds of cases and to certain kinds of damages. Therefore, our Chicago nursing home neglect lawyers, know that it is critical to properly interpret the immunity rules applicability in various settings, including long-term care negligence suits.
In this case the lower court judge found that the nursing home–because it is run by the county (a state entity) had complete tort immunity. That judgment was appealed. On appeal the plaintiff’s attorney argued that the immunity laws were misapplied. Specifically, the appellate brief noted that nursing homes owned publicly are not expressly granted tort immunity. The one case used to support the trial judge’s opinion, the plaintiff argues, was distinct from this one, because it only involved punitive damages, not compensatory damages. Punitive damage seeks to punish conduct in order to deter others while compensatory damages are hinged on the actual harm suffered by the victim in an attempt to make the victim “whole.”
It is vital that the courts get this issue right. Finding for complete immunity in this case may distort the intention of the legislature and, in some cases, limit the rights of those hurt from receiving redress following their losses.
The defense reply to the plaintiff’s brief is pending, and it is expected for oral arguments to be heard later this year.
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