The Pennsylvania Superior Court unanimously ruled that liability for neglect and abuse can be imposed on a nursing home under a corporate negligence theory in Scampone v. Grane Healthcare Company, _A.2d_, 2010 WL 2780315 (Pa. Super. July 15, 2010). The Court observed that such liability is already imposed on hospitals, HMOs and medical professional corporations that have total responsibility for the coordination of care and management of all patients. Reasoning that a nursing home is analogous to a hospital in the level of its involvement in a patient's overall health care, the Court held that the nursing home corporate owners and operators were liable to the deceased victim of systemic neglect and abuse for its grossly inadequate and incompetent staffing. The Court said: "If a health care provider fails to hire adequate staff to perfom the functions necessary to properly administer to a patient's needs, it has not enforced adequate policies to ensure quality care....the existence of this persitent lack of adequate staffing constituted a violation the [nursing home corporate owner's] duty to formulate, adopt and enforce adequate rules and policies to ensure quality care for its patients."
The Superior Court also detailed the outrageous reckless indifference of the nursing home warranting an award of punitive damages against the corporate owners and operators. The Court found that the evidence established that these corporations "acted with reckless disregard to the rights of others and created an unreasonable risk of physical harm to the residents of the nursing home." The facility was chronically understaffed and complaints from staff went unheeded. Substandard care was rampant and records were deliberately altered or falsified to hide the improper care. Incredibly, the nursing home increased staffing with tempory caregivers during state inspections to pass inspection, and then reduced the staff levels after the inspection was concluded. The care of the deceased victim was no less than deploable. Accordingly, the Court felt that the punitive damages issue was appropriate for the jury to determine under both the common law of Pennsylvania and the punitive damages provision of the Pennsylvania MCARE Act, specifically Section 1303.505.
If you or a loved one is a victim of nursing home neglect or abuse, you should consider corporate negligence as the basis for institutional liability against the nursing home. This very powerful legal cause of action holds the corporation directly liable for its own substandard care of its patients. Of course, you should also consider the indirect liability of the nursing home for the negligent and/or reckless conduct of its employees.