If you file a nursing home abuse lawsuit in Rancho Bernardo, can you be eligible to receive punitive damages? Punitive damages represent a particular type of remedy that is not awarded in many cases, including in lawsuits concerning nursing home abuse allegations. However, according to a recent opinion from the California Court of Appeals, Jarman v. HCR ManorCare (2017), there are indeed cases of elder abuse in which punitive damages are appropriate.
This case is important for nursing home residents in Rancho Bernardo and throughout the state of California as it makes clear that the court system will hold nursing facilities accountable for egregious acts of elder abuse. What else do you need to know about punitive damages in order to understand the weight of this decision?
What are Punitive Damages and Why are They Important?
Under California law, punitive damages are a form of an “enhanced remedy.” Typically, there are two primary types of damages available for plaintiffs who file a nursing home abuse lawsuit:
- Compensatory damages: compensatory damages are aimed at compensating the plaintiff for his or her losses. These losses can be objective in nature, such as the costs of hospital treatment, as or subjective in nature, such as pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages: unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not designed to compensate a victim for losses. While these damages still are awarded to the plaintiff in an elder abuse claim, they are aimed at punishing the defendant for particularly harmful behavior. In other words, punitive damages typically are awarded in cases where the court determines that the defendant’s actions were so reckless or malicious that the defendant deserves to be punished for those actions. Punitive damages also are designed to deter similar behavior in the future.
To obtain an award of punitive damages in California for elder abuse under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, what does the plaintiff need to prove? In a case alleging “physical abuse of an elder or dependent adult,” a plaintiff must show the following by clear and convincing evidence:
- Defendant physically abused the plaintiff by [specific act];
- Plaintiff was 65 years of age or older at the time of the conduct;
- Defendant acted with recklessness/malice/oppression/fraud;
- Plaintiff was harmed; and
- Defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s harm.
Significance of the Recent California Case
In the recent case of Jarman v. HCR ManorCare, the plaintiff suffered injuries at HCR ManorCare, a California nursing home facility. The Plaintiff’s lawsuit alleged hundreds of violations of his rights and significant instances of elder abuse. For instance, the initial lawsuit argued that ManorCare knew the plaintiff required physical assistance with activities of daily living, and yet “failed to provide him with that required assistance.” At the facility, “he was frequently left lying in soiled diapers, call lights were ignored, and he suffered other abuse and neglect.” The facility also failed to take steps to prevent the patient from developing devastating bedsores.
The trial court determines that the plaintiff had endured “382 violations of his rights,” yet decided that punitive damages were not appropriate. However, the plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeals emphasized that the sheer number of violations alone was enough to show that the facility “had acted with malice, oppression, or fraud” as required by California law.
To be clear, even if no specific violation rises to the level of involving “malice, oppression, or fraud,” the number of violations alone may be sufficient to show that punitive damages are appropriate.
Contact a Rancho Bernardo Elder Abuse Lawyer
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(image courtesy of Didier Weemaels)