AAARP asked Pennsylvania’s highest court to hold a nursing facility parent corporation and management company liable for misdeeds at their facilities. The court ruled that the plaintiffs had the right to bring the case against the corporate parent.
Madeline Scampone was admitted to Highland Park Care Center, a skilled nursing facility, with numerous conditions. Between 1998 and February 2004, she greatly deteriorated. She had multiple urinary tract infections, dehydration, malnutrition, bed sores and cardiac arrest that ultimately caused her death. After her death, her family sued the facility and its corporate parent, alleging negligence in care and in deliberately understaffing the facility, and alleging alteration of records to hide the substandard care provided.
A trial court refused to allow the corporate parent to be held liable, but allowed the case against the facility itself to go forward. A jury found the facility liable for $193,000 in compensatory damages, finding among other things that the facility’s employees “not only were aware of the understaffing that was leading to improper patient care, they deliberately altered records to hide that substandard care … Records concerning the administration of medications were falsified. Staffing levels were increased during state inspections and then reduced after the inspection was concluded.” Scampone was deprived of appropriate nursing care “for a critical nineteen days prior to her death” and found in a “deplorable condition.”
An appellate court reversed the finding that the parent corporation was not liable, and suggested the trial court consider not only compensatory but also punitive damages. The nursing facility appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Attorneys with AARP Foundation Litigation filed AARP’s friend-of-the-court brief, highlighting the specific findings of negligence and falsification that were the direct result of the corporation and management company’s actions and inactions The brief also emphasized the need for private litigation because Pennsylvania’s (and other state’s) regulatory enforcement process is woefully inadequate to protect nursing home residents from abuse and neglect. Congress and the federal government have expressly recognized the importance of holding corporate entities accountable for the care provided in nursing home facilities.
In a carefully reasoned decision, the court found that if a plaintiff can prove that the corporation impacted critical aspects of day-to-day operation of a facility (i.e., staffing, budget, training and so on) the corporation can in fact be held accountable for negligent actions and inactions.
What’s at Stake
It is critical that not only facilities but their parent corporations step up to accept liability for inadequate care and for deliberate misdeeds at their facilities. If parent corporations know that they will be held financially liable for lapses in care and recordkeeping, they will have better incentives to ensure the proper care is given and proper procedures followed. This decision immediately impacts Pennsylvania facilities, but it is likely to have more national effects as the reasoning adopted by the court could have broader implications for the entire nursing facility industry.
Scampone v. Highland Park Care was decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.