Court upholds $1.2 million judgment against former SNF operator in resident abuse case

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The former operator of an Oklahoma skilled nursing facility will have to pay a $1.21 million judgment handed down in an abuse case, despite its argument that the award was invalid under state law, a judge recently ruled.

The judgment was levied against Westlake Nursing Home Limited Partnership, which owned Quail Creek Nursing and Rehabilitation Center when a lawsuit was filed by the family of a former resident.

The suit sought compensation after a certified nursing assistant at the facility was caught on a hidden camera slapping the resident with a latex glove, and then shoving the glove in the resident's mouth. Another employee was seen watching the incident, but not stopping it. The resident died three months after the abuse was revealed.

The CNA who slapped the resident pleaded guilty, served time and has since been deported, The Oklahoman reported on Thursday. The second CNA was released on bail and has since disappeared, officials said.

A jury awarded the resident's family $1.21 million, which Westlake appealed on the grounds that it should have been capped at $350,000 under the state's noneconomic damages law. The law caps damages, except in cases where a party acted with “reckless disregard for the rights of others." Ron Lusk, the former owner of Quail Creek, was eventually taken to court over claims that he dodged paying the award; a jury in that case ruled that Lusk would have to pay.

In a late September opinion, a judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that Westlake and Lusk would have to pay the full $1.21 million, since the evidence presented during the trial showed that the resident was “abused on a daily basis” between her admission in 2008 and when the video was recorded in 2012.

“After carefully considering the entire trial record and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, we are convinced that the damages awarded were not excessive,” the panel wrote. “An award of $1.2 million is not ‘beyond all measure unreasonable and outrageous' as compensation for three and a half years of daily torment.”

The facility is now under new management and known as Brandon Place. The operator issued a statement to The Oklahoman saying they had no ties to the defendants in the lawsuit and have implemented a pre-hire screening since taking over the facility.

“Once hired, the employee is educated and trained not only on job duties and competencies, but also on abuse and neglect reporting and prevention,” the statement reads. “In the event of an allegation, the facility is obligated to self-report to the state and conduct an immediate and complete investigation of the circumstances.”