Short stay ends in $43 million settlement

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A Kentucky jury handed a  local nursing home operator a $43 million settlement bill in connection with a lawsuit alleging that a 92-year-old resident died of neglect after just nine days at the facility.

Family members alleged that Joseph Cling Offutt died of complications from dehydration and pressure ulcers that were caused by neglect.

Officials with the facility, then known as Harborside of Madisonville but since changed to Hillside Villa Care and Rehabilitation Center, said they would “vigorously challenge the decision through the appeal process.”

“We feel the size of the verdict is outrageous and totally inappropriate based on the facts presented in the case,” facility administrator Carol Britt said. “Not only did we provide quality care to this individual, but the outsized punitive damages assessed against us bear no relation to our conduct.”

A Hopkins County Circuit Court jury sided with the plaintiffs' allegations that the victim did not receive enough water to survive, despite having a feeding tube in place. The family, which was represented by the Wilkes & McHugh law firm, also alleged that infected pressure ulcers contributed to Offutt's death.

The jury award concluded a three-week trial and included $40 million in punitive damages, $1 million for Offutt's pain and suffering and $1.75 million for his wife's loss.

Offutt, a World War II veteran who reportedly planted crops until he was 88, died in 2008, two days after leaving Harborside of Madisonville.

The lawsuit was filed against the facility and its owners and operators, SunBridge Healthcare Corp., Sun Healthcare Group and Harborside Healthcare Group. The size of the award is believed to have been affected by the fact that the facility is owned by one of the largest for-profit operators in the country. The case is Offutt v. HBR Madisonville LLC et al., No. 09-CI-00529, verdict returned (Ky. Cir. Ct., Hopkins County Nov. 16, 2010).