$1.2 Billion Verdict in Nursing Home Case...Yes, “Billion”
Late last month a jury was asked to decide a nursing home neglect case related to a resident who died after falling well over a dozen times. As an apparent message of anger to the company which provided such substandard care, the jury returned a utterly astonishing verdict - $1.2 Billion.
A Christian Post story has the details of the case.
The suit was pursued by a man on behalf of his mother. The senior woman stayed at the defendant-nursing home for a period of about three years, from 2004 until her death in 2007. The defendant facility, owned by a large nursing home conglomerate, Trans Healthcare Inc., apparently took little stock in ensuring that the best interests of the residents were actually respected.
The senior resident in this case fell an astonishing seventeen times during her stay at the home. As we often point out, even a single fall can be a clear sign of neglect. Seventeen falls, however, is an indication of simple abrogation of basic responsibilities. She was only 69 years old when she took her final fall, breaking her hip and ultimately dying from the complications.
No Defense Showed Up
After her death, her adult son filed a wrongful death lawsuit on her behalf. The defendant-company initially alleged that they only operated the home until late September 2004, well before most of the senior’s falls and death.
As a result of their claims the company seemingly refused to participate in the lawsuit at all. They did not attend hearings or respond to motions from the court. When this happens, and a party simply refuses to legally answer, then a default judgment is entered. That is what happened here as the plaintiff’s won a default judgement in 2011.
Because the judgement itself was granted by the judge, the jury’s only responsibility in a later trial was to decide the damages that should be awarded to the family.
In explaining the situation to the jury, the neglect attorney noted that: "It was an enterprise of a conglomerate that took over a nursing home in Polk County and looted the assets of the company, short-staffed it, under budgeted it, and as a result, the nursing home residents were suffering. Ms. Townsend was one of those nursing home residents that suffered and ultimately died as a result of those acts."
The defendants were not represented at the damages hearing, and they chose not to present any counter-evidence or argument.
It only took the jury about an hour in deliberations to reach a final decision about damages. They awarded the family $200 million in compensatory damages and the shocking $1 billion in punitive damage-- to punish the company for its conduct.
Of course, the actual jury verdict is just the beginning of this complex process. It is not as if the company plans to immediately write a check for $1.2 billion to the family. Instead, the plaintiffs will now have to engage in a battle to actual secure funds from the company. Undoubtedly, there are complex arguments about actual corporate ownership and available assets which will take place in future legal arguments.
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