Pennsylvania Nursing Home Abuse Law, Designed to Limit Punitive Damages, Stalls in the PA Legislature
As a firm that's very active in Pennsylvania nursing home abuse and neglect law, Rosenbaum & Associates pays close attention to the relevant machinations going on in Harrisburg.
As readers of this blog might remember, last fall, the Pennsylvania House passed a bill supported by associations like Pennsylvania Health Care Association/Center for Assisted Living Management. The bill aimed to limit punitive damages that liable nursing homes would have to pay in certain cases. Damages would be limited to double compensatory damages (at best), with an exception for situations in which intentional misconduct occurred.
The bill would also compel plaintiffs to file in the county in which the abuse/negligence happened -- as opposed to in counties that have a reputation for being more favorable to plaintiffs.
The Nursing Home Associations' push may have stalled out for now, but analysts believe that the effort could be kick started again in the fall.
Advocates of the legislation cite the fact that Pennsylvania's malpractice insurers paid out nearly $320 million in 2011, according to National Practitioner Data Bank research. That would make Pennsylvania the second biggest medical malpractice payout state - ahead of New Jersey and Illinois, but significantly short of New York's numbers (a $680 million payout!)
The Nursing Home Association has also complained that nursing facilities often operate on small margins; and these fragile businesses could lose everything in a single massive lawsuit. Advocates of the bill also point to massive, almost cartoon-like judgments in places like Florida, where two state facilities last year got hit with judgments of $200 million and $900 million, respectively.
What advocates of this Pennsylvania Nursing Home legislation are not paying attention to...
It's true that abuse/neglect lawsuits and settlements can place a burden on facilities. But isn't that burden a good thing? If you or someone you love got hurt in a PA nursing home due to a prescription medication foul-up, bedsore metastasizing into life threatening sepsis, or other horrific scenario, wouldn't you want to be able to leverage a full suite of legal tools to get compensated and to take care of your loved one?
Is our current system always totally fair? No.
But it's more unfair to victims of abuse or neglect than it is to owners of negligent facilities - by a long shot.
Perhaps if advocacy groups like the Pennsylvania Health Care Association/Center for Assisted Living Management spent more time identifying best practices for senior care -- and punishing facilities for straying from a high standard -- there would be less need for law firms and less need for the kind of legal actions that these groups rail against.
The horror stories that we've personally heard - and have helped to abate - along with compelling statistics at both the national and state levels suggest that the onus is on delinquent nursing facilities. These facilities need to do a better job of taking care of people: of fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities not only to their patients but also to our communities.