Nursing home's management company could be liable for victim's death

When a person dies due to the negligence of others, those responsible should be held accountable. However, what if multiple parties, such as a nursing home as well as its management company, might both be responsible? The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed such a situation in the case of Scampone v. Highland Park Care Center, LLC.

An elderly woman's condition worsens

The victim lived at a nursing home for approximately six years because she required skilled nursing care for several chronic illnesses including senile dementia. During this time, she was admitted to a hospital on a number of occasions for urinary tract infections.

Following her last hospitalization, she was returned to the nursing home in good condition, but approximately a month later, she returned to the hospital with numerous medical issues, including dehydration, malnutrition, bedsores and another urinary tract infection. A few days later, the victim suffered a heart attack and died. Her son filed suit for negligence and wrongful death against the nursing home and the corporation providing management services to the nursing home.

At trial, former nursing staff testified that they were not given adequate time or personnel to complete their assigned tasks, such as distributing and monitoring food, medication and water intake. There was also expert testimony that this and other failures breached the standard of care for a skilled nursing facility. According to the testimony, this breach led to the victim's death.

After the son concluded presenting his case, the trial court allowed the lawsuit to continue against the nursing home, and the jury awarded damages of nearly $200,000. However, the court dismissed the lawsuit against the management company stating that the son had offered insufficient evidence of the corporation's negligence. The son appealed seeking another day in court.

Was the management company also liable?

On appeal, the question presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether a theory of corporate negligence could be applied to the healthcare company responsible for the operations of a nursing home. However, the court reconsidered this question and instead determined that the proper question should have been whether the son had provided sufficient evidence of the relationship with the management corporation to establish that it owed a duty of care to the victim.

Under the law related to personal injuries, when a party agrees to provide services to another, and such services are recognized as necessary for the protection of the other person, that party is subject to liability for physical harm resulting from the party's failure to exercise reasonable care.

The trial court should have determined if this principle applied to the management company, based on the circumstances of this case. Because the trial court applied an incorrect test to the situation, it erred in finding that the management company was not liable. Thus, the management company could still be liable for the wrongful death and the case was returned to the trial court, affording the victim's son the possibility of a new trial against the management company.

Holding all parties accountable

If you have suffered the loss of a close relative due to the negligence of others, you should ensure that all parties who played a role in that loss are held accountable. As this case shows, sorting out all the guilty parties and their liability can become quite complex. You should seek the advice and counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney who will protect your interests and work to hold all parties responsible for their actions.