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A $4.1 million judgment awarded against a Tennessee nursing home is generating debate in that state over the rights of abused residents to compensation versus the costs to insurance companies and nursing home operators.

The jury heard evidence that the resident developed bedsores, and had an undiagnosed hip fracture and other problems, all of which were ignored by the nursing home because of chronic understaffing at the facility owned by National HealthCare Corporation.

Spokesmen for a state medical society and the nursing home reacted by charging that the jury’s award threatens to run nursing homes out of business and doctors to flee the state. But Ken O’Connor, the attorney for the resident’s family, responded:

“All these proposed reforms will do is multiply medical malpractice in the state because it will immunize wrongdoers from the consequences of their actions….We don’t need tort reform. We need medical malpractice reform. We need nursing home reform. The less accountable you make wrongdoing, the more likely you are to provide incentives for wrongdoing.”

Insurance and health care industry groups are citing the case as support for a bill pending in the Tennessee legislature to set a cap of $250,000 on pain and suffering awards against doctors and nursing home facilities.

Caps such as these deprive compensation to innocent victims who are the most vulnerable members of our population: the elderly, sick and disabled. And they do nothing to promote better care for the residents. If anything, the caps reduce any incentive to upgrade staffing and training.

Juries such as this one speak for the community. The legislature would be wise to listen.

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