Tennessee Nursing Home Lawsuit Damages Not Capped This Year

A legislative effort by the nursing home industry to place a cap on the damages that can be awarded in Tennessee nursing home lawsuits filed by patients or their families ran into a dead end when the state’s House Civil Practice and Procedures Subcommittee failed to pass the proposed bill yesterday.

Tennessee House Bill 2243, sponsored by Rep. Jon Lundberg, sought to limit the damages that may be awarded for nursing home injuries caused by the conduct of a long-term care facility in the state.

The proposed legislation, which had been referred to as the “Kill Old People Cheap Act” by opponents, would have placed a cap on punitive damages between $300,000 and $1.5 million depending on the number of hours of direct nursing care the facility could prove that it provided. In addition, awards for pain, suffering and other “non-economic” damages would have been capped at $300,000.

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After lengthy testimony was presented for and against the proposed bill, the subcommittee deadlocked at a 3-3 vote, with the three Republican members voting for and the three Democrat members voting against the measure.

A majority vote was required to advance the bill to a full vote of the House. Rep. Lundberg indicates that he plans to resurrect the bill with modifications next year.

Opponents of the Tennessee nursing home bill argued that limiting the amount of damages juries are able to award will remove the incentive for facilities to maintain quality standards of care and staffing, especially among large corporate owned chains of nursing homes.

According to survey data released last year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Tennessee nursing homes rank among the worst in the United States for quality of care. Out of 319 nursing homes in Tennessee, only 7% were rated as above average and 41% were given the lowest score possible for staffing levels.

The federal nursing home ratings give every facility between one and five stars for staffing, quality, health inspections and an overall score. The quality measures include evaluations of information such as how many patients developed nursing home bed sores, how many nursing staff hours were provided each day to residents and how many were placed in nursing home restraints.

In recent years, Tennessee nursing homes have seen an unprecedented number of complaints, leading to national scrutiny on the issue.

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