Over the past few months, we’ve seen a steady stream of massive jury verdicts in cases involving wrongful death and nursing home abuse at skilled nursing facilities across the country. After seeing some of the figures, you may be tempted to throw your hands up in desperation and think that perhaps someone is slipping the jurors something illegal in their lunchtime beverages.
Despite the assumption that some of these juries are simply out of touch with reality, a closer review of these substantial nursing home jury verdicts reveals that many of these verdicts are comprised of a substantial amount of punitive damages– damages awarded to punish the wrongdoer– as opposed to more traditional compensatory damages that are designed to compensate individuals for different aspects of their loss.
When considering an award for punitive damages, many jurisdictions allow jurors to consider the financial background of the company so and award can be proportionate to their profitability. Considering that some of these operators own hundred’s of facilities, the amount of revenue pouring in is nothing less that staggering.
Considering string of substantial verdicts: $114 million, $900 million and $91 million in nursing home negligence cases recently, jurors have simply become outraged by the fact that while these operations are pulling in such substantial profits, it typically is at the expense of providing quality care to patients. By reducing staffing levels and services, already profitable operations can achieve levels of profitability once thought to be unobtainable.
A punishment simply on paper
While the recent verdicts are impressive for their shear size, it is important to consider that most of these verdicts are probably worth little more than the paper that the jury verdict is written on. As the profits from these operations are (legally) diverted to various corporate entities that control the daily decisions made at these facilities, the state laws applicable to the entities incorporation make following the money trail difficult— if not downright impossible.
As this trend of corporate deceit continues to play a larger role in nursing home negligence and medical malpractice cases, families need to pressure lawmakers to implement accountability measures to ensure that there is sufficient assets present satisfy all judgments and potential creditors.
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