Researching Multimillion-Dollar Awards in Nursing Home Cases

Brought to you by the Real Law Editorial Team

“I understand if your boss is telling you, you can’t do it,” the dispatcher said. “But … as a human being … you know, is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?”

“Not at this time,” the nurse answered.

The firestorm of coverage of the Glenwood Gardens incident on February 26, 2013, was no doubt ignited by the extraordinary 911 call that accompanied the story. Many people were angry, and those not angry were concerned. State legislators stood ready to make new regulations, the family of the deceased made a statement, the nursing home issued a statement, but then the company that owns the nursing home issued a possibly conflicting statement. In the following week, even more information emerged that made it a much less clear-cut case for rage and regulation.

Right now we don’t know if what happened was desirable, normal or regrettable—and who, if anyone, is liable. It may very well be decided in court, and it will require a lot of information for the lawyers to prepare their cases—including not only the facts of this case, but also how it matches up with other similar cases. That will require research. If this were your case, what would you need to know? And how much could it be worth?

Nursing Home Negligence by the Numbers—Big Ones

Awards in nursing home negligence cases can easily go into the millions of dollars. Some jurisdictions, such as Florida, even allow the jury to determine punitive damages. In one Florida case, Jackson v. Trans Health (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105235, 2010 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 406), the jury awarded $114 million to the plaintiff, with $100 million of that total being punitive damages! Knowing how this case compares with your client’s situation could definitely pay off.

Looking at the case summary in a tool like LexisNexis® Verdict & Settlement Analyzer, the plaintiffs were the children of Juanita Jackson, a 76-year-old great-grandmother. The injury is described as “a fall resulting in closed head trauma; fractured arm; infections; bedsores; overmedication; malnutrition; dehydration; death.” The case summary also describes the defendant as the largest private nursing home chain in the country. The plaintiff “maintained that the evidence clearly reflected a corporate culture in which considerations of expansion were given much more importance than considerations of patient care.”

Beyond the injuries and case summary, there are multiple data points that can be used for analysis. For example, each state, court and judge can have distinct patterns that should be understood and accounted for when comparing or contrasting the merits of any particular case.

Further cross-referencing reveals other subtle trends. In these cases, there were also multiple injuries. Like in the Jackson case, the summaries in these cases also note that the plaintiff’s counsel justified the punitive damages by the fact that companies were prioritizing profits over patients.

Digging Deeper to Get the Real Story

The fact that we can connect cases by verdict and settlement according to jurisdiction reveals deeper patterns. Further cross-referencing of large awards for the plaintiff in Florida shows that Jackson v. Trans Health was actually only one of three big wins against the same group of companies. The law firm Wilkes & McHugh won $900 million for Webb v. Trans Healthcare Inc. (2012 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 1957, 2012 FL Jury Verdicts Review LEXIS 181) and $200 million for Nunziata v. Trans Health Management Inc. (2012 FL Jury Verdicts Review LEXIS 37, 2012 FL Jury Verdicts Review LEXIS 730).

It also turns out that winning was not as decisive as expected: none of the money awarded in these cases has actually been collected. In fact, the lawsuits continue, with Wilkes & McHugh having to pursue damages with the company that later acquired Trans Healthcare and other related financial entities. In its recent suit against GE Capital, it wasn’t successful.

Fortune Favors the Prepared Lawyer

The U.S. population is aging and health care continues to be a hotly debated topic. There will be more cases like this, and soon there will be a new record award. There’s smart money to be bet on watching this space and knowing how to prepare if a case like this comes your way. The intricacies and opportunities in these nursing home lawsuits are numerous, and research with the right tools can reveal them.