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On June 18, 2014, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issued its opinion in the case of Manor Care, Inc. v. Douglas. The facts of this case surrounded a woman named Dorthy Douglas, an elderly Alzheimer’s patient who as admitted to a nursing home in September 2009. After a few weeks of being in the nursing home, it was alleged that Ms. Douglas showed signs of being bed ridden, dehydrated, had fallen multiple times, and had become largely unresponsive. Ms Douglas died shortly afterward.
The Plaintiff in the case, Ms. Douglas’ son, sued the owner of the nursing home along with other companies for medical negligence and other non medical claims. After a 10 day trial, a jury issued a verdict for $11.5 million in compensatory damages and $80 million dollars in punitive damages. After the jury’s verdict, the nursing home appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals based on the punitive damage award, the non-medical claims asserted, and the verdict form.
After hearing arguments, the Court ruled that the punitive damage award should be reduced, and did reduce the punitive damage award to $32 million. Importantly however, the Court ruled that claims involving management, staffing, and non-medical related services do not fall within the confines of the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act. This means that the non-medical claims were not subject to the caps placed on damages under the Act. Additionally, the court observed that verdict forms that are provided to the Jury during a trial are very important and must include all of the necessary findings a jury must determine during juror deliberations.
This ruling by the Supreme Court is an important one for individuals attempting to bring a wrongful death case against a medical entity as it determined that non-medical claims against a medical facility are not subjected to damages caps.