A California jury has awarded $23 million in punitive damages against Emeritus Corp., a nationwide chain of assisted living facilities, following a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of woman who died in one of the company’s facilities.
The verdict was handed down in Sacramento Superior Court last Friday, following trial of a nursing home neglect lawsuit brought by the children of Joan Boice. The jury had already found that Emeritus was guilty of fraud, malice and oppression before granting the massive punitive damage award, which is designed to punish the company for gross negligence.
Boice, 82, was admitted to Emeritus at Emerald Hills in September 2008, where she allegedly developed bedsores after less than four months. She died in 2009, three months after the family removed her.
During the trial, the family’s attorneys presented evidence that suggested employees covered up the bedsores so that she wouldn’t be removed from the facility, presumably so that the nursing home could continue to collect money for her being there.
Bedsores develop on the skin when an area is repeatedly rubbed or something is pressed against the skin for a long period of time. The pressure reduces the blood flow in the area, which can result in skin deterioration and an ulcer can form.
These pressure sores typically occur in bony areas of the body, such as the elbows, hips, shoulders, heels, back and the back of the head. Early symptoms may include red skin that worsens over time. The area can also develop a blister which turns into an open sore.
The lawsuit also accused the company of understaffing the nursing home and failing to provide sufficient training.
According to a local media report by The Sacramento Bee, jurors indicated following the trial that they were shocked and stunned by evidence presented, and wanted to send the company and the industry a message. In addition to evidence of poor care, they found particularly disturbing information presented during the punitive damages phase that the company failed to properly staff its facilities while it hadn’t paid federal income taxes in three years, even though it generated more than $1.5 billion in revenue last year.
During the trial, the defense team for Emeritus admitted that there were problems with management of the facility at the time, as well as staffing, training and care issues. Emeritus has indicated that it will appeal the decision, suggesting that the jury’s award did not fit with how the facility treated Boice. Emeritus is the nation’s largest assisted living facility company.
The family won the case after rejecting an offer by the company to settle for only $3.2 million.