Will $677 Million Dollar Verdict Against California Nursing Home Bring Change to the Industry?

Both the defendant and the plaintiffs in a recent California class action suit were brought to tears, albeit for different reasons, after the jury handed down a $677 million dollar verdict against the defendant for nursing home abuse and negligence. The verdict is easily the largest in the country this year and the largest verdict ever brought against a nursing home. Although the plaintiffs have now agreed to a settlement of only $50 million dollars, the case has still sent shock waves of fear throughout the nursing home industry.

The lawsuit accused Orange County-based company, Skilled Healthcare, of failing to maintain 3.2 nursing hours per patient per day at the 22 nursing homes it owns as is required by law. Skilled Healthcare runs 78 nursing home facilities nationwide. Cindy Cool, one of the 32,000 plaintiffs involved in the suit against Orange County company, testified that she witnessed horrifying abuse on the part of the staff of the nursing home where her father resided. According to Cool's testimony, she would routinely find her father, who was suffering from Alzheimer's, in urine-soaked clothing. Although the other abuses that occurred within the home are not being publicly reported, she has stated that she was "brought to tears" after witnessing the "far worse abuse" that was being perpetrated against other residents.

Skilled Healthcare's stock dropped dramatically after the verdict after stockholders feared that the company would go bankrupt. The nursing home's request for a mistrial was also denied. Skilled Healthcare was also unable to challenge the decision because in California, defendants are required to post 150 percent of the verdict as a bond. Skilled Healthcare did not have the cash or credit to post the $1 billion-plus bond. However, the plaintiffs did agree to a reduced settlement out of fear that more patients to be harmed, neglected, or deprived of services if the company was forced to close the doors of all of its facilities.

I am thrilled by the outcome of this case! The original $677 million dollar verdict will hopefully serve as a wakeup call to the nursing home industry that nursing home abuse will not be tolerated and that there will be major consequences to breaking the law. Skilled Healthcare should feel lucky that the plaintiffs in this case agreed to a reduced settlement out of concern for other patients. Nursing home abuse has been on the rise since companies such as Skilled Healthcare went on a nursing home buying spree in early 2000. These big companies only seem to care about their bottom line and are cutting staff to save money at the expense of residents. Hopefully this verdict will show them that they can not ignore the patient/staff ratio laws that are in place, and  remind them that all nursing home facilities must maintain a safe, clean, and healthy environment for their residents! If you suspect that you or a loved one is being abused within a nursing home, there is help available to you. Contact law enforcement and an attorney immediately!

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