In Scampone v. Grane, 11 A.3d 967 (Pa. Super. 2010), the Pennsylvania Superior Court significantly changed the litigation landscape of nursing home cases, particularly in the area of skilled nursing facilities and healthcare companies that run nursing homes.
As background, Madeline Scampone went a skilled nursing facility – Highland Park Care Center- in February of 1998 as a result of a number of co-morbidities. The Complaint focused on the care from December 2003 until her death in February of 2004. Specifically, the Complaint alleged that as result of neglect, primarily due to under staffing, Mrs. Scampone developed illnesses which were substantial factors in causing her death.
There were multiple parties named in the Complaint and two remained in the case for trial – Highland Park Care Center and Grane Healthcare Company. At the conclusion of Mrs. Scampone’s case, the trial court granted a compulsory non-suit and allowed Grane out of the case. The trial court also determined there was insufficient evidence to support a punitive damages claim. The case was submitted to the jury on vicarious and corporate negligence. The jury awarded $193,000.00 and both sides appealed to the Superior Court.
On appeal, the Superior Court ruled that corporate negligence applies to a skilled nursing facility and the healthcare company responsible for its operation. The Scampone case applied the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision Thompson v. Nason Hospital, 591 A.2d 703 (Pa. 1991) (which applied to hospitals) and extended corporate negligence to skilled nursing facility and the healthcare company.
Essentially, the Superior Court determined a nursing home owes the following duties to its residents: (a) to use reasonable care in the maintenance of safe and adequate facilities and equipment; (b) to select and retain only competent physicians; © to oversee all persons who practice medicine within its walls as to patient care; and (d) to formulate, adopt and enforce adequate rules and policies to ensure quality care for its patients. More specific to the Scampone case, the Superior Court determined that under staffing can be the basis for a corporate negligence claim, which can be supported by evidence of under staffing and a history of citations and complaints.
Perhaps more importantly, the Superior Court reversed the trial court with regard to punitive damages. The Superior Court stated “deliberately altering patient records to show care was rendered that was actually not is outrageous and warrants submission of the question of punitive damages to the jury.”
The Scampone decision is a very important decision in that is finally establishes that a corporate negligence claim may be brought against not only the facility but the managing entity. Moreover, the Scampone decision provides guidance on punitive damages and what is sufficient for a punitive damages claim in the context of a nursing home claim. The matter is currently on appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many attorneys, including myself, are anxiously awaiting the decision.
If you, or someone you know, has been injured due to the negligence of a nursing home or assisted living facility, please contact me to set up a free consultation here in my firm’s Yardley, PA office to discuss your rights in more detail.