A Florida jury awarded $3 million in compensatory damages and $17 million in punitive damages on September 26 to the sole living relative of Charles McCorkle, an Alzheimer's disease patient whose rights as a nursing home resident were violated by a corporate policy of substandard care.
The jury determined that Extendicare Health Facilities Inc. had set a corporate policy of understaffing its chain of nursing homes to maximize profits, and that this not only was negligence, but also a form of “reckless disregard.”
The National Law Journal reports that key testimony came from seven staff members at Colonial Care Center, the St. Petersburg, Florida, nursing home where Mr. McCorkle received substandard care during his 12-month stay.
They testified “that they never had enough time to feed the patients; there was never enough manpower.” The plaintiff’s lawyer also indicated that “For the first 35 days of his residency at Colonial, the staffing was below minimum standards 80 percent of the time.”
Mr. McCorkle, 65, deteriorated after arriving at Colonial Care in June of 1997. He often was not fed and was left lying in his own feces. After two months, he developed a gangrenous pressure sore the size of an orange, received hospital care and surgery, and then returned to Colonial Care. He died several months after leaving Colonial Care for an assisted living facility.
Allowing a nursing home resident’s condition to deteriorate is a violation of his or her rights as a resident. The Florida jury awarded damages, not because Mr. McCorkle died, but because Extendicare's policy violated his rights. Extendicare has filed post-trial motions to set aside the verdict, and if unsuccessful vows to appeal.