Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nursing home owners can be liable in neglect cases

A three-judge Superior Court panel has overturned an Allegheny County Common Pleas judge and declared that a local nursing home and its owner may be held liable in a patient neglect death.

The court's ruling means that nursing home owners now may be sued for neglect in any of their homes. It also expands the legal interpretation of liability, which once restricted corporate negligence liabilities, to include not only hospitals and health maintenance organizations but also nursing homes.

"This is the first case in Pennsylvania to have such a holding," said Peter Giglione, a Pittsburgh lawyer who represented Richard Scampone in his suit on behalf of the estate of his mother, Madeline Scampone. She died Feb. 9, 2004, at Highland Park Care Center.

The suit filed in Common Pleas Court charged that Mrs. Scampone died of dehydration and presented witnesses who said the facility was understaffed, medical records were falsified and water was not provided to residents because the employees were overworked.

The Scampone estate won a judgment of $193,000 but sought and won a new trial after arguing that Judge Robert J. Colville erred in allowing the home's owner, Grane Healthcare, to be excluded from the suit.

The Superior Court panel was made up of Judges Mary Jane Bowes, Christine L. Donohue and senior Judge Zoran Popovich.

The judges concluded that Grane, the parent firm, played a substantial role in managing the Highland facility, including establishing quality assurance.

"We conclude that plaintiff's evidence established that both Highland and Grane 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 court declared in its ruling. "The record was replete with evidence that the facility was chronically understaffed and complaints from staff continually went unheeded."

The court also declared that employees of the company "not only were aware of the understaffing that was leading to improper patient care, they deliberately altered records to hide that substandard care by altering [Activities of Daily Living records] that actually established certain care was not rendered."

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