The California Supreme Court ruled that statutory damages against a nursing home are limited to $500 per case under the state's Health and Safety Code.
The 5-2 ruling, handed down Aug. 17, reversed an earlier decision by the California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, in which a jury awarded $250 per violation—for a total of $95,000—as well as $100,000 in damages to the daughter of a nursing home patient, John Jarman, who has died since filing the lawsuit at age 91 against HCR ManorCare.
Advocates for patients say the ruling "nailed the coffin shut" on residents' rights, while nursing home proponents say the case "rightsized" claims against providers and solidifies earlier judgments that capped penalties.
"Residents' rights now are illusory," said Prescott Cole, senior staff attorney for the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. "Now the industry only has to pretend to be concerned about residents' rights. The only recourse is being liable for $500."
Mark Reagan, managing partner of Hooper, Lundy and Bookman and general counsel for the California Association of Health Facilities, however, said the "decision leaves intact the ability of consumers to sue for professional negligence, for wrongful death and for elder neglect and abuse."
But Cole says those options limit residents to only being able to file claims for egregious or intentional treatment or misconduct and puts the burden of proof on the resident.
"It's not good for the resident. It's not good for the industry either," Cole said. "Untethered, the bad players are going to get worse."