$4 Million in Punitive Damages Awarded in Nursing Home Claim

In any Virginia personal injury claim, a plaintiff not only has to prove that the defendant acted with negligence or intent, but also that the plaintiff sustained compensable damages. In some cases, a defendant’s conduct may be so egregious that the plaintiff may be able to recover punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages are generally very substantial, as they are designed to deter similar future conduct.

In one recent case, a court upheld an award of punitive damages of over $4 million in a nursing home neglect case. The plaintiffs brought their claims against a nursing facility after three residents died at the facilities in a “vent unit.” The vent unit was designed for ventilator-dependent patients. The plaintiffs claimed that the residents died due to inadequate staffing and a lack of supplies in the vent unit.

The evidence presented indicated that one resident’s breathing apparatus was detached without any alarm going off.  Another resident was found dead with his ventilator and its alarms turned off. The third resident’s tracheostomy tube was not properly replaced after it had been removed by nursing home staff. The plaintiffs claimed that all three deaths were caused by inadequate staffing and a lack of supplies.

After a trial, a jury found in the plaintiffs’ favor. It awarded one of the plaintiffs $50,000 and the other two $300,000 each in compensatory damages. The jury also awarded each plaintiff $1,523,939.16 in punitive damages. A federal appellate court upheld the award after the defendants appealed the decision.

The appellate court explained that the evidence showed that the nursing home regularly failed to maintain adequate staffing levels, as required under state law, despite repeatedly being warned of the danger this posed to residents. Employees testified that the nursing home tried to cut costs by reducing staffing and spending on supplies, and that the home saved $1,523,939.16 on staffing costs in one year. Therefore, the court found the punitive damages award was supported by the evidence and upheld the award.

Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Claims

There are two types of damages in Virginia personal injury claims: compensatory damages, meant to compensate a plaintiff for their losses, and punitive damages, meant to punish the defendant and deter others from engaging in similar conduct. While compensatory damages are awarded based on the plaintiff’s injuries, such as medical bills and emotional distress, punitive damages can range widely. However, punitive damages can only be awarded in addition to compensatory damages. To obtain punitive damages, a plaintiff must show that the defendant acted wantonly, oppressively, or with such recklessness or negligence that it showed a conscious disregard of the rights of others, or with malice or criminal indifference to civil obligations.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury while at a nursing facility, contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Charles B. Roberts is a dedicated Virginia personal injury attorney who has gained a reputation for being willing to devote the time, resources, and skill necessary to prevail even in very difficult personal injury cases. He handles all types of personal injury cases, including car accidents, incidences of medical malpractice, wrongful death, and defective product claims. Call Attorney Roberts to schedule a free initial consultation at 703-491-7070.

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Court Discusses Whether Employer’s Insurance Company Was Liable for Damages Caused by Employee’s Drunk-Driving Accident, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, August 31, 2018.