On the day of the incident, the plaintiff reported for work for her first day at the home. The head nurse showed her the treatment cart, medical cart, bathroom, kitchen and other locations within the home and the plaintiff began to familiarize herself with the residents’ medications and treatment plans. Later, the plaintiff went to one of the rooms in the home to treat two residents. To administer one of the resident’s medication, she poured water into a Dixie cup. The resident took his medication with the water but left approximately 30 ccs of the water in the cup. The plaintiff then took the cup and approached the bathroom with the intent of pouring the remaining water into the sink before discarding the cup in the trash. However, before reaching the sink, the plaintiff slipped and fell on the bathroom floor. While in pain on the floor, the plaintiff felt liquid and smelled cleaning solution which indicated that the bathroom floor was left in an unsafe condition prior to her arrival.
As a result of the fall, the plaintiff underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Her torn ACL was left untreated.
After a trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff $500,000 in damages. However, the trial justice reduced the damages to $382,000. With the pre-judgment interest award, however, the number actually ballooned to $631,373.66.
The State of Rhode Island appealed the ruling.
After hearing arguments, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling for several reasons. First, the court held that the judge did not err in finding the public-duty doctrine inapplicable. The public-duty doctrine served to provide a type of immunity for tort claims to government-owned entities. However, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court in finding that the Veterans Home performs tasks that are very much in line with private nursing homes and that the doctrine should not apply solely because the Veterans Home was a “creature of statute.” Second, the higher court ruled that the lower court correctly rejected the application of the statutory tort cap. Third, the higher court found that the inclusion of pre-judgment interest was appropriate. The crux of the issue was that the plaintiff never actually asked for the interest.
However, the Supreme Court found that in a civil action where damages are awarded, interest at a rate of 12% are to be added by the clerk of the court from the date the cause of action accrued and that amount is then added to the total damage award. It does not matter whether the interest was requested by the plaintiff or not.