Headlines were made this weekend when a judge handed down an eye-popping $200 million verdict in a nursing home abuse case. The verdict broke many records both in the nursing home neglect lawsuit context and among personal injury cases generally. However, as with most massive awards like this, there is much more to the story than meets the eye. It is unclear if the victim’s family will receive any money, and the case is far from settled.
According to Tampa Bay News Online, the lawsuit was first brought on behalf of a 92-year old woman who died at a nursing home because of the negligence of staff members at the facility. In 2004 the elderly woman was suffering from dementia and was confined to a wheelchair. One afternoon her body was found crumpled at the bottom of a stairwell in the nursing home. She had fallen down an entire story in the building while strapped to her wheelchair. It was later learned that the door leading to the stairwell was suppose to be locked at all times. However, aides at the facility testified that the door was sometimes unlocked (and the warning alarm disabled) so that employees of the facility could use it to smoke inside the building.
This sort of negligence is something with which our Chicago nursing home neglect lawyers are quite familiar. Over the years we have represented many nursing home residents who suffered ghastly falls as a result of a facility failing to ensure that their surroundings were safe. It is not surprising that in this case the facility in question apparently had a long track record of safety citations for deficiencies. Former employees admitted that the home was chronically understaffed. Time and again the very same homes are found to be the site of multiple instances of neglect.
Following the tragedy the victim’s family rightly filed a nursing home neglect lawsuit to demand accountability. However, as sometimes happens in these situations, the various companies which had ownership roles in the home desperately tried to shield themselves from paying for the consequences of the misconduct. The main defendant in the case was a management company that had the sole authority to operate the facility. Before the case went to trial that company went defunct. The parent company is now in receivership (meaning that they control the company after it experienced financial problems).
The nursing home neglect attorneys for the family also argued that the true owners of the facility were private equity investors. It was argued that they shuffled the assets of the management company around to avoid liability. Because of the disagreement about ownership the defendants ultimately did not even try to mount a defense. When a trial is held without a defense, expectedly, the claims made by a plaintiff are taken as true. Considering there was clear evidence of negligence and severe loss, it is not surprising that the verdict was substantial. It is unclear if the verdict will affect the receivership down the road. It is also unclear how the case will progress and whether or not the involved family will actually see and redress for their loved one suffering.
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