NURSING HOME LITIGATION

In the January 25, 2011 edition of the Legal Intelligencer there was an article authored by two attorneys, William Mundy and John Skrocki, from the law firm of Burns & White. They reviewed the Pennsylvania Superior Court, July 15, 2010, opinion of Scampone vs. Grane. That case has been widely written about because it changed the landscape for nursing home liability in Pennsylvania.

Madeline Scampone was admitted to the Highland Park Care Center which is a skilled nursing facility in 1998. Between the periods of December, 2003 and February, 2004 when she died, the Plaintiff alleged that as the result of neglect, primarily due to under-staffing, Ms. Scampone developed urinary tract infections, dehydration, malnutrition and bed sores. These were substantial factors in causing her death at the age of 94.

The complaint alleged corporate liability against the corporate facility and also Grane, the healthcare company, the management company. The jury gave the Plaintiff a total award of $193,000.

On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the lower Court’s ruling and held that a skilled nursing facility can be held liable under the theory of corporate liability. Further, chronic under-staffing can form the basis of a corporate liability claim. Lastly, a punitive damage claim could also be made against the Defendants Highland and Grane.

This decision was the 1st Pennsylvania Appellate level case to extend the theory of corporate liability to long-term skilled nursing home defendants. The opinion compared nursing home care of its residents as akin to that of a hospital. As such, the Pennsylvania Superior Court decided that corporate liability can be applicable to this situation. What the Scampone case did was to open up a new area for direct corporate liability against a licensed nursing home operator. Also the hiring of sufficient staff to operate the facility is recognized as part of the generic corporate duty.

Thus, you can see why this is such an important decision. What Plaintiffs and representatives of nursing home residents can now claim is that due to the chronic under-staffing, that the owners of the facility can be held liable under the corporate theory.

Finally, the opinion is important because it basically held that corporate Defendants in nursing home cases have a duty to formulate and enforce policy to insure quality care of its residents. Nursing homes cannot simply incorporate and distance themselves from the day-to-day operations of the facility.

I think this decision makes a lot of sense. If residents and family are going to pay hard-earned money to allow their loved ones to stay in a facility, then it is incumbent upon the corporate structure of the nursing home facility to at least insure that the residents are treated with care and competence.

We have all seen situations in hospitals where one or two nurses have to cover an entire floor of 40 or 50 patients. Simply put, this decision emphasizes that it is not acceptable in nursing home situations.

I welcome any nursing home questions you might have. Email me at [email protected]