$90 million verdict against HCR ManorCare will stand, judge rules

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Judge Paul Zakaib
Judge Paul Zakaib

HCR ManorCare was appropriately penalized $90 million in a case involving resident neglect and understaffing, a judge in West Virginia ruled last week.

The case involves Heartland of Charleston, a nursing home in Charleston, WV, owned by HCR ManorCare. After Dorothy Douglas died in 2009 following a stay at Heartland, her son sued, alleging that negligent treatment at the facility contributed to his mother's death. A jury returned a $90.5 million verdict against HCR ManorCare in 2011.

Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Paul Zakaib reduced the penalty by $400,000, ruling that some of the economic damages were limited by a cap on such awards in West Virginia. HCR ManorCare argued that the medical malpractice cap, established in 2003, should apply to the entire amount, which would limit the penalty to $594,000. The plaintiff's attorneys said an older law, the Nursing Home Care Act, supersedes the caps. 

"In every instance, the trial court judges ruled against those assertions," HCR ManorCare lawyers stated.

The West Virginia legislature created a bill, SB 101, to clarify that nursing homes are protected under the 2003 caps. The bill passed on Saturday and is headed to the governor. However, the law would not apply retroactively to this verdict, and most of the Heartland damages would not be covered under the bill. 

Lawyers for the nursing home company also argued that a potential error on a verdict form was grounds for a new trial.

Zakaib denied the motion for a new trial in his April 10 ruling that upheld the $90 million in damages. He said residents were neglected because Heartland of Charleston was understaffed to maximize profits, and a large penalty was needed to deter a “wealthy company” such as HCR ManorCare from engaging in these practices.

HCR ManorCare lawyers said they would appeal to the state's supreme court.