Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Colonial Healthcare to Pay $28 Million for Elderly Abuse

A nursing home corporation based in Rocklin was recently held liable for $28 million worth of punitive damages for the death of one of its residents in Auburn because of an infected bedsore.

Colonial Healthcare in Auburn and mother company, Horizon West of Rocklin who runs 33 nursing homes mostly in Northern California, were found guilty of elder abuse. Elizabeth Pao sued Colonial for their lapses which contributed to the death of her mother, 79-year old Frances Tanner.

Long-time civil servant Tanner was suffering from mild dementia but otherwise healthy and mobile when she was admitted to Colonial. But within 7 months, after breaking her hip in a fall accident, she died from an infected bed sore.

Witnesses, who included former Colonial employees, accused the nursing home of chronic understaffing, poor medical documentation and corporate greed.
The jury found the nursing home’s conduct to be “malicious, oppressive and fraudulent and awarded Pao $1.1 million in damages for Tanner’s pain and suffering as well as Pao’s loss of companionship.

However, a monumental award of $28 million in punitive damages was also set by the jury. Colonial, who has a history of problems with state regulators, was cited for the fourth time for the death of an elderly patient in Tanner’s case.

Carole Herman from the Foundation of Aiding the Elderly said that the multi-million award should send a strong message to Colonial as well as other nursing homes that they have to do better.

In any personal injury or wrongful death claim, damages can be awarded to the victim or the deceased’s family once it is proven that the defendant’s negligence or actions caused the damage or injury.

The plaintiff can receive damages which are either be compensatory or punitive. Compensatory damages are monetary compensation intended to compensate the injured party for his actual loss or injury.

On the other hand, punitive damages or exemplary damages are given in addition to compensatory damages to “punish” the defendant and set an example to keep others from making the same mistake and ruining other people’s lives.