The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed a lower court ruling that granted a new trial in a medical malpractice case brought against Providence Care Center. The court says the new trial will be conducted to reassess liability and compensatory damages; however, an earlier award for punitive damages was affirmed. Grane Healthcare Company, who operates the Providence facility, had previously been granted a non-suit order that this court reversed.
The lawsuit was brought by James Temple, the son of Elma B. Temple, who was a resident of the facility and experienced a fall that left her suffering with an elbow laceration and multiple fractures. Mr. Temple alleged that the facility was negligent because they left her unsupervised.
The majority of these cases of nursing home negligence across the state do not make it to trial. Almost all of these matters are settled in some manner prior to trial. Mrs. Temple was 81 years old at the time and was experiencing dementia. She was in the dining room and began exiting using a ramp when the fall occurred. The plaintiffs provided significant testimony that she was in pain and was suffering for several months after the incident.
During the jury trial, Grane Healthcare filed a motion for a non-suit ruling stating that they were not responsible for Mrs. Temple's care, which was granted. The jury ultimately found that Providence was negligent and awarded $2 million in compensatory damages as well as punitive damages totaling $250,000. During the Superior Court appeal, the judges found that the evidence showed that Grane may have had a duty to care and that the duty may have been breached. Judge John Bender felt that Grane had entered an agreement to “administer a quality assurance program” for nursing care. He further stated that they did not exercise reasonable care.
A defendant may file a motion for a compulsory nonsuit that challenges the evidence. The court will consider evidence in a manner that is favorable to the plaintiff when inferring facts to resolve conflicts. A compulsory nonsuit is granted only when the court finds that no cause of action has been clearly been established. The nursing home attempted to use a defense that falls in nursing facilities are inevitable and that they had exceeded the minimum requirements for staffing.
The elderly are at far greater risk of falling and are more likely to incur severe injuries from falls. They tend to have poor eyesight associated with macular degeneration or other eye problems. They are more likely to be suffering from diseases involving the nervous system such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's that hinder walking and coordination. In nursing home settings falls are among the most common causes for injuries and fatalities.
Medical Malpractice & Standards of Care
In this case, Grane Healthcare motioned for a non-suit ruling by suggesting that they did not have a duty to care. Medical providers are supposed to adhere to certain standards of care when this duty exists. When a medical provider's level of care is insufficient to satisfy these standards it is referred to as a breach and is evidence of liability for medical malpractice. Here are some facts regarding the standards of care:
- The standard is essentially a level (quality) of medical care that any doctor within the same specialty would provide
- These standards are unique to the specific specialty of practice
- Standards are established as a result of current medical research and practice
- Physicians are expected to evolve to remain compliant with the latest standards and technologies