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Jury Awards $90 Million to Son of Nursing Home Abuse Victim

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A Charleston, West Virginia jury awarded the son of an 87-year-old women $90 million in damages after she died just weeks after being transferred to a temporary nursing home. In spite of the medical malpractice caps in place in West Virginia that limit medical malpractice awards to $500,000, the jury found that only 20% of the nursing home’s negligence was medical.

Tom Douglas filed a lawsuit after his mother, Dorothy Douglas, died in 2009 just three weeks after being admitted to the Heartland nursing home of Charleston. Prior to arriving at Heartland, Dorothy was able to speak, walk around, and appeared to have recovered from some of her worst symptoms associated with her Alzheimer’s Disease and other ailments. Dorothy was staying at Heartland temporarily, while waiting for a bed to open up in a more permanent facility. However, within just three weeks of her stay at Heartland, she was confined to a wheelchair, could not feed herself, and was seriously dehydrated. She died a few hours after being transferred to the permanent facility.

Lawmakers in West Virginia passed the medical malpractice cap about ten years ago in response to doctor groups’ complaints that "frivolous lawsuits" were increasing the price of insurance and forcing doctors to leave the state. Other proponents of capping medical malpractice awards argue that the nursing home industry is highly regulated and therefore there is no need for jury awards such as that awarded to Tom Douglas. However, if the industry were as well regulated as some suggest, there would be much fewer deaths in nursing homes.