Plaintiff Terri Allfrey is pursuing a wrongful death claim against the Golden Living Center nursing facility located in East Stroudsburg after her mother, Mary Ann Miller, died shortly after being admitted to the facility. Based on certain allegations, the claim seeks punitive damages that the defense filed a motion to have dismissed. U.S. District Judge Robert Mariani of Pennsylvania's Middle District rejected the defense's motion for dismissal. The claim is the result of negligence after an autopsy suggested that the facility ignored the development of severe pressure ulcers, which are commonly referred to as bedsores, that were found on her body.
Miller gained admittance to the facility in 2015 after enduring a broken hip. At that time it was noted that she may be at risk for the development of bed sores because of her apparent lack of mobility. Over the following months, several bedsores developed and quickly worsened. The claim asserts that Golden Living Center failed to maintain Miller's dignity and actively monitor her physical condition. Prior to her death, Miller was taken to Pocono General Hospital where she was found to have pressure ulcers that had progressed to dangerously late phases and contributed to her death. The punitive damages sought in the claim are based on the plaintiff's belief that the staff later falsified many of the existing records outlining Miller's condition.
Allegations of Falsifying Records
The claim accuses the facility of altering their notes to make them appear as though Miller was more frequency assessed by the staff. These changes to the written documentation are potential violations of laws at both the state and federal levels. The court responded to the defense's motion to dismiss the punitive damages by stating that they believed the allegations did have merit. The response stated that “a basis clearly lies in this case for a claim of punitive damages”. The court further suggested that these actions showed an apparent “consciousness of guilt”.
Prior Complaints Against the Defendant
Priority Healthcare Group, a company based in New York, recently acquired ten of the Golden Living Center facilities which are facing a lawsuit brought by the state's attorney general. Their investigation revealed potential violations including that the facility was left understaffed and that the treatment of residents was negligent. Several months earlier, Priority bought a group of similar nursing facilities owned by Reliant Senior Care, which was also being sued for these types of reasons. This court action involving Reliant was recently settled for approximately $2 million.
Punitive Damages in Pennsylvania Law
Civil law in Pennsylvania allows for claimants to pursue punitive damages when the defendant exhibits action that is willful or wanton in nature. This includes rare instances where the defendant's behavior is deemed as being reckless. The behavior that justifies the pursuit of punitive damages must go beyond “ordinary carelessness, laxity, or indifference”.
The vast majority of civil injury claims exclusively seek economic and noneconomic damages. A jury is usually responsible for making the determination of whether the defendant's acts were truly done intentionally. The maximum value of an award for punitive damages is equal to 200% of the actual damages awarded in the case.