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WV Supreme Court rules that punitive damages should not be subject to medical malpractice cap

The West Virginia Supreme Court recently reduced the amount of damages a nursing home was ordered to pay from $90 million to $32 million, according to the Charleston Gazette. However, in reducing the amount, the court also made clear that punitive damages that a nursing home is ordered to pay are not subject to a medical malpractice cap provided under West Virginian law.

Abuse and dehydration

This case was brought forward by a man whose mother stayed at the Charleston nursing home. Doctors had said that the 87-year-old woman should have been able to live for several more years, but after just a few weeks at the nursing home she was suffering from dehydration and malnourishment. She died a few weeks after being moved to a different facility, according to the Charleston Daily Mail. While the nursing home claims she died from dementia, the woman’s family says she passed away from dehydration.

The judges, while reducing the compensatory amount, condemned the nursing home, saying the facility was chronically understaffed in a bid to increase profits. According to the court, the nursing home was unable to provide patients with even the most basic necessities of life, such as an adequate amount of water.

Medical malpractice cap

A lower court had ordered the nursing home to pay $90 million, most of which came in the form of punitive damages. The nursing home argued that the damages should be reduced. One of the central points the court had to address was whether damages should be limited by a $500,000 medical malpractice cap provided by West Virginia law.

The court did reduce the compensatory damages and then reduced the punitive damages in proportion to the compensatory damages, but did make clear that the medical malpractice cap did not actually apply to punitive damages. It noted that punitive damages must be high in order to discourage repeat offenses. The son of the woman who died at the nursing home will now have an opportunity to either accept the reduced damages or ask a court to decide a new punitive amount based on the Supreme Court’s latest decision.

Malpractice lawsuits

The above case provides some mixed results for people who seek to hold medical professionals responsible for negligence and malpractice. While the reduced damages are a setback for those who believe this particular nursing home should be held fully accountable for its actions, the fact that the court has ruled that punitive damages are not subject to the medical malpractice cap is encouraging.

Any person who has suffered because of medical malpractice should consult with a qualified medical malpractice attorney. Such an attorney can instruct his client on the merits of a particular case and whether compensation may be sought from any negligent parties.