$90M verdict is a deterrent, judge says

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A $90 million penalty will stand in a case involving resident neglect and understaffing at an HCR ManorCare facility, a judge in West Virginia ruled.

The case involves Heartland of Charleston, a nursing home in Charleston, WV. 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 West Virginia's cap on such awards. 

HCR ManorCare argued that the cap, established in 2003, should apply to the entire amount, reducing the total penalty to $594,000. The plaintiff's attorneys said an older law, the Nursing Home Care Act, supersedes the caps. 

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

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 ruling that upheld the $90 million in damages. He said residents were neglected because Heartland of Charleston was understaffed to maximize profits, and only a large penalty could deter a “wealthy company” such as HCR ManorCare from this practice.

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