When abuse and medical malpractice happen within any medical facility, there are legal and financial repercussions. Nursing homes are no different. Now the nursing home industry is seeking to limit punitive damages that can be awarded for malpractice, saying that the financial liability is too high.
State Governments Asked To Limit Punitive Damages
In the 2012 legislative session, Pennsylvania’s state House passed a bill to limit punitive damages for long-term care facilities. Although the bill did not yet pass the Senate, it is expected to be acted upon this fall. This is an attempt for the nursing home industry to keep their financial liability down when it comes to mistreatment of patients in their facilities. But Pennsylvania is not the only state to look at limiting financial repercussions for nursing homes. Florida’s supreme court has also been busy dealing with the nursing home industry. Even though Florida already has limits on certain punitive damages for nursing homes, some nursing homes in Florida have been seeking to reduce it even further by having patients sign agreements limiting punitive damages. In November 2011, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the ability for nursing homes to put limits on punitive damages in arbitration agreements signed by patients and their families. The court found the limits to be in violation of Florida public policy and that they were unenforceable.
Increasing Level Of Care
Instead of spending all the time and money fighting the state governments to limit their financial responsibility to mistreated patients, maybe the nursing home industry should look towards the reason for these lawsuits. The patients are being portrayed as money seeking villains set on putting the nursing homes in financial jeopardy. In reality they are awarded these damages due to being victims of proven misconduct and malpractice on the part of nursing homes. If money were spent to increase staff to patient ratios and measures taken to make sure all patients received the care they deserved, the lawsuits would diminish. The court awards punitive damages to make doing the right thing, like increasing level of care, more financially viable then the alternative. The message seems to be getting lost somewhere In 2010, it was found by the National Center on Elder Abuse that 91% of nursing homes lacked adequate staff to care for their patients and 36% of them were in violation of elderly abuse laws. These are the numbers that the nursing home industry should concern itself with, not the amount of money they can be liable for because of these statistics. Reducing their financial liability does not give them any incentive to increase their level of care. It is a poor strategy and lawmakers need to think of the consequences that these types of limits may have on the patients these homes are supposed to care for.