As an increasing portion of the United States’ population reaches its golden years, it would seem that more safeguards would be put in place to advance and protect the interests of aging Americans. However this seems not to be the case, especially in the state of Tennessee. Earlier this year, Tennessee lawmakers passed new legislation that limits the non-economic damages that a victim of nursing home abuse or nursing home malpractice may recover. This legislation comes only two year after the Tennessee legislation passed measures that greatly reduced the oversight and regulation of nursing homes in the state. Needless to say, victims of nursing home abuse, and their families, are outraged.
Dennis Matthews, whose mother, Verdie Matthews, died from dehydration and malnutrition at a nursing home owned by Life Care Centers of America, sued the Tennessee based company. At trial, the jury found the nursing home negligent, and awarded Matthews 11.5 million dollars. However, after the trial, the judge overruled the verdict, and Matthews and the company reached a private settlement. For Matthews, his ordeal did not end ideally. He did not receive the compensation he was originally awarded by the jury at trial. The company was not held fully accountable for the nursing home abuse that Matthews’ mother suffered. But, this nursing home was indeed held responsible. However, for plaintiffs bringing this type of case in the future in Tennessee, holding nursing homes accountable for their malpractice may not be a realistic possibility.
According to The Tennessean, earlier this year, Tennessee law makers passed a measure placing strict limits on the rights of nursing home patients and their families to sue nursing homes for poor care. This new law, which caps the amount a jury can award, is slated to go into effect before October. This new law comes just a couple of years after lawmakers vastly reduced oversight of the state’s nursing homes by eliminating regulations mandating that nursing home operators file detailed reports on adverse events affecting patients. The previous law also eliminated requirements that the state investigate those incidents. Combined, these laws mean lessened regulation of nursing homes, and the decreased ability of injured patients or their families to hold negligent nursing homes responsible for their actions. Overall, this seems like a poor state of affairs. So, the question is why is Tennessee choosing to take this route?
According to state politicians and state Health Department officials, the laws reducing the regulations on nursing homes were designed to decrease the backlog of nursing home abuse cases that had gone uninvestigated, and to streamline the whole investigatory process. Although this change came at the request of Health Department Officials, attorneys who regularly handle nursing home abuse or nursing home malpractice claims argue that this new law, which caps the amount plaintiffs can recover in a lawsuit, in conjunction with the previous law which resulted in lessened regulations of nursing homes, will lead to nursing homes operating negligently with impunity.
The new tort reform bill caps pain and suffering claims against nursing homes at $750,000 dollars. A higher $1 million dollar cap applies to other, limited types of cases. Fortunately, these caps do not apply if intentional misconduct is found. Nor is there any cap on economic damages, such as doctor and hospital bills or lost wages. According to Randy Kinnard, an attorney in Nashville, Tennessee, who regularly takes on these types of claims: “By limiting the only damages a nursing home resident has, the new law has made it virtually impossible, in some cases, for attorneys to recover a reasonable amount of money for the victims and their families.” This statement sums up why this new law is detrimental to the increasing number of aging citizens in our society. If victims of nursing home abuse or nursing home malpractice are not able to seek adequate compensation from the facilities or companies who cause them harm through the court system, then they, or their families, may possibly be left with a life time of suffering, and those responsible will escape responsibility, paying little or no penalty. Tennessee’s new laws set a dangerous precedent, and it is my desire as Georgia nursing home abuse attorney, that other states do not follow in its footsteps.