The West Virginia Supreme Court will consider the distinction between corporate negligence and medical negligence as it weighs a $90 million verdict against an HCR ManorCare facility, according to reports on oral arguments that took place Wednesday.
A jury handed down the penalty against the 184-bed Heartland of Charleston in 2011. Dorothy Douglas had resided at Heartland prior to dying in 2009, and the poor care she received at the facility led to her death, according to charges brought by her son.
Caps set by the state’s Medical Professional Liability Act should apply to the whole award amount, reducing it to about $600,000, ManorCare lawyers argued unsuccessfully in circuit court. They renewed their arguments when addressing the state’s highest court this week.
Although 80% of the original verdict was for ordinary negligence and 20% for medical negligence, ManorCare attorneys said the MPLA cap should apply to the whole award amount, according to local news reports. If the cap does not apply to the ordinary negligence claims, such as that the facility was understaffed, then virtually all claims against nursing homes would “evade the requirements of the MPLA,” the legal team argued.
However, lawyers on the other side said that Douglas died because ManorCare did not sufficiently budget to meet residents’ needs, and this is a corporate and not a healthcare matter.
“It was a corporate decision [made] in another state for resources,” said attorney Michael J. Fuller, according to the Charleston Daily Mail.
The attorneys also wrangled over whether the jury had been given a flawed verdict form that allowed jurors to consider how much money is in ManorCare’s coffers, the Charleston Gazette reported. In upholding the verdict, Circuit Court Judge Paul Zakaib said that only a massive penalty could serve as a deterrent for a wealthy company such as HCR ManorCare.
Last year, after this case raised doubts, West Virginia lawmakers passed a bill clarifying that the MPLA is intended to cover nursing homes.