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Son seeks justice for mother from two PA medical providers

Making the decision to admit a loved one to a nursing home due to age or health-related issues includes many variables and isn't a decision made overnight. One must take into consideration their loved one's health, their needs, the needs of others involved and what would be in the best interests of the elderly person in question, among other things.

A son made the decision to admit his mother to a nursing home managed and run by two Pennsylvania-based care facilities. The son's hopes for his mother's well-being was darkly overshadowed when she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection that later led to a fatal heart attack.

This trial has been a two-fold process, one in which a Pennsylvania defendant was found guilty and ordered to pay damages to the family. The other defendant has appealed the trial court's decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where the case was sent back to the trial court. The Supreme Court reasoned that the family had proved that Highland Park (the medical provider) should be held accountable for punitive damages and found that the trial court improperly granted Grane's (the other defendant's) motion for nonsuit and should have allowed the jury to decide on punitive damages in that previous verdict.

Punitive damages are a special category of personal injury damages that can be sought in certain situations. Think of them as an additional category of damages, one that can be sought in addition to the standard damages and are meant to act as a 'punishment' for the negligent defendant's actions in a case. Since the plaintiff had proved in a previous case that their loved one had not been granted access to basic needs like food, water and appropriate care and this directly lead to her UTI and subsequent heart attack, the issue of fact had been previously proven. Thus, punitive damages are now allowed to be sought on behalf of the plaintiff.

Another trial, or possibly a settlement, will determine the amount of punitive damages paid by the defendant. While this has, no doubt, been a long road for the plaintiff and their family, they did get the outcome they were hoping for. Punitive damages are not sought in every wrongful death case, but, in this case where medical malpractice was clearly evident, the judge found it appropriate. It appears this family's quest for legal closure in their loved one's death is close to completion.

Source: law360.com, "Pa. Court Orders New Trial In Nursing Home Suit," Y. Peter Kang, August 9, 2017

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