Just last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted down extending the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (MCARE) to nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state. Among other provisions, the MCARE Act currently caps punitive damages against doctors, hospitals, and healthcare providers to 200% of the amount awarded for compensatory damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. The latest version of the bill sought to limit punitive damages against nursing homes to 250%. Punitive damages are dollars awarded to a victim with the intent to punish the party responsible for causing injury. Punitive damages are also intended to deter the likelihood of similar incidents occurring in the future.
Damage Caps: A Solution to a Non-Existent Problem
Robert L. Sachs, Jr., a Pennsylvania personal injury attorney, told the Penn Record that nursing homes are “asking for protections that already exist, and they’re asking for protections…as a cure for a problem that hasn’t even been diagnosed.” Sachs goes on to challenge Pennsylvania nursing home defense attorneys to pull up 5 awards composed of large punitive damages.
Those who supported the Republican-backed bill say that overturning the extension of the MCARE act leaves nursing homes in a constant state of lawsuit fear. Many say that nursing homes choose to settle lawsuits instead of taking them to court, simply because they are afraid of being hit with punitive damages. Nursing homes who carry liability insurance typically do not have allowances for coverage of punitive damages arising from lawsuits.
Regardless of a nursing home’s reason to settle, those who have the facts in their favor should not be afraid of letting a court of law hear those facts and render a verdict.
Illinois Law on Damage Caps
There are currently no laws regarding punitive damages in medical malpractice or nursing home abuse and neglect cases here in Illinois. However, federal legislation regarding caps for damages known as pain and suffering has been a constant discussion since the beginning of the Trump Administration. Last year, House Republicans introduced H.R. 1215 (also known as the Protecting Access to Care Act), a bill that would limit damages for pain and suffering to $250,000. Pain and suffering includes those losses that cannot be quantified. Justia.org defines these injuries as “pain, emotional anguish, humiliation, reputational damage, loss of enjoyment of activities, or worsening of prior injuries.” Losing a limb, suffering brain damage and enduring infertility all fall under non-economic damages. After economic damages are assessed, juries are asked to consider non-economic damages, which attempt to compensate a victim for all that has been lost from a non-financial perspective. Contrary to popular belief, non-economic damages aren’t intended to make injured victims rich, but rather to give them the opportunity to seek out ways they can enjoy life again.
H.R. 1215 passed the House in June 2017, but it was hardly a victory. The bill passed 222-197, with 17 of the ‘nay’ votes belonging to house Republicans. This weak backing from Republicans leaves little chance that the Senate will ever pass the bill.
With H.R. 1215 unlikely to pass at the federal level and Pennsylvania’s recent vote against damage caps, elder advocates across the country are hopeful that the fight to end poor care in nursing homes might finally be gaining momentum.