THE ASSOCIATED PRESS reported that a Sacramento County jury awarded $29.1 million dollars in a case involving the death Frances Tanner, a 79-year-old Stockton woman. The jury awarded $28 million in punitive damages and $1.1 million in compensatory damages against Colonial Healthcare and its’ partner, Horizon West Healthcare Inc., for Tanner’s 2005 death caused by elder abuse. Ed Dudensing the attorney representing Tanner’s daughter, Elizabeth Pao and her estate said “the jury made the award they did because they rejected the way Horizon West did business.” According to Tanner’s daughter, her mother was suffering from dementia when she moved into the home and subsequently suffered a broken hip in a fall and died from an infected bedsore. The jury heard evidence of chronic understaffing, poor medical documentation, and other acts on neglect. Additional evidence of the companies’ finances and business practices led to the punitive damage award.
Our condolences go out to the friends and family of Mrs. Tanner.
Applicable California Law
My prior blog posts detail the law related to wrongful death cases and I would invite you to review them for the applicable law. California Civil Code Section 3294 determines when punitive damages can be awarded. As applied to employers, punitive damages based on the conduct of an employee may be awarded in various situations such as where the employer :
- Had advanced knowledge that the employee was unfit an employed him or her with conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others
- Authorized or ratified the bad conduct; or
- Commits one or more acts of oppression; or
- Commits fraud, such as a “cover up” or lying about events;
- Engages in one or more malicious acts
If the employer is a corporation then the claim of “conscious disregard ” must be the act of “an officer, director, or managing agent” of the corporation having the power to influence corporate policy. Punitive damages are awarded in limited situations and are designed to act as a deterrent by punishing the wrongdoers. It is clear that in this particular case, the jury was trying to send a clear message to the corporations and their employees.
Cases involving Nursing Home Negligence are becoming increasingly prevalent. As large corporations who operate them focus more on profits and less on providing services, the danger to nursing home and assisted living residents increases. This is further aggravated by insurance companies reducing reimbursement for services, which results in the hiring of poorly screened, under qualified employees, and under staffed facilities. It is crucial that family and friends are vigilant in monitoring nursing home residents. If a loved one or some one you know, shows any signs of neglect or abuse while living at a nursing home, contact a experienced personal injury attorney.