One of the most traumatic events in the life of any family is the decision to place an elderly parent or relative in a nursing home. No one can be certain that the parent will receive adequate care, regardless of how thoroughly the family may have checked out the facility.
Occasionally, poor care by nursing home staff can result in serious injuries to a resident or even death. A family in Bellevue, Iowa, sued a local nursing home when their mother died shortly after experiencing an accidental fall in 2016 while her assisting nurse’s back was turned.
The family sued the nursing home, its owners and the firm that managed the home, seeking damages for the wrongful death of their mother. A jury returned a verdict of $800,000 in favor of the family and a larger amount in punitive damages. A judge who handled the appeal ruled that that the plaintiffs had proved negligence on the part of the nurse but that they failed to demonstrate a sufficiently severe disregard for the interests of the patient. Wanton or reckless behavior is required if punitive damages are to be awarded. During the trial, an expert witness described the nurse’s conduct as negligent but not reckless or wanton.
This case demonstrates the blurry line between negligence and the type of wanton or reckless conduct that might support an award of punitive damages. A non-lawyer might say, “it’s only words.” However, the distinctions make a big difference in court. In this case, the jury may have found a great deal of sympathy for the victim’s family and acted accordingly. The judge, after reviewing all of the evidence, apparently found that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s conclusion.
There is no doubt that seemingly straight-forward personal injury claims can get complicated. This is why many families turn to legal professionals for assistance when a loved one is injured by another.