Thursday, March 18, 2010

5 Million Punitive damages set in Phila. bedsores death case

In an highly unusual step for such a case, a Philadelphia jury today leveled $5 million in punitive damages against Jeanes Hospital and a Wyncote nursing home in the death of a man who developed ultimately fatal bedsores while at both facilities.

The damages - $1.5 million against Jeanes and $3.5 million against the Hillcrest Convalescent Home - came two weeks after the same Common Pleas Court jury awarded $1 million in compensatory damages in the case. The damages were awarded to the widow of Joe N. Blango, who died of bedsores in 2008, two years after being discharged from Jeanes Hospital in the city's Fox Chase section.

While compensatory damages are not unexpected in such cases, punitive damages are, according lawyer Robert L. Sachs, who handles nursing-home cases and serves as liaison to the Philadelphia court for other nursing-home litigators.

"To my knowledge, this is the first nursing-home case to go to the jury on punitive damages in Philadelphia," said Sachs, who was not involved in the Blango case.

Rebecca Harmon, a spokeswoman for Temple University Health System, which owns Jeanes, said Temple would appeal the verdict.

"There is not one shred of evidence to support any liability in this case as it relates to Jeanes Hospital, and the contemplation of punitive damages is simply inexplicable," she said in an e-mail. "We're very proud of the high-quality care provided to patients each and every day at Jeanes Hospital."

Attempts to reach a representative for Genesis HealthCare Corp., which owns Hillcrest, were unsuccessful.

Steven R. Maher, who represented Blango's widow, said that in his 25 years of handling such cases, this was only the second time a jury had awarded punitive damages.

One reason, he said, was the high standards required to permit punitive damages to be considered. A jury must find that a facility had engaged in "outrageous and reckless conduct," he said.

Blango went to Jeanes on May 21, 2006, after suffering weakness and confusion. He was 74 at the time and was thought to have suffered a stroke.

According to Maher, doctors at Jeanes failed to properly diagnose that Blango was suffering from a urinary-tract infection that, as a result, worsened and left him susceptible to the bedsores that ultimately killed him.

After about a week at Jeanes, Blango was transferred to Hillcrest, where he stayed two weeks until his condition worsened and he was returned to Jeanes. He was released to go home after three days.

Maher contended that workers at Jeanes and Hillcrest allowed the bedsores to fester and Blango to go malnourished to the point that he lost 28 pounds.

After he returned home, Blango was cared for by his wife, Shirley, before dying from the bedsores two years later.

"This verdict sends a message," Maher said, "that this type of care is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."