Pennsylvania legislators are attempting to impose new limits on punitive damage awards leveled against elderly care facilities in lawsuits over nursing home neglect and abuse.
Last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted 103-89 to approve HB 1907, an addition to the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act, which seeks to shield nursing homes from large punitive damage awards in cases where juries find that residents were injured as a result of neglect or abuse.
The cap would limit punitive damages to double that of the compensatory damages awarded in any Pennsylvania nursing home lawsuit.
As opposed to compensatory damages, which are design to provide compensation for injuries, punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant for their conduct. In many states, punitive damages start at triple the compensatory damages. T
he bill does, however, contain a provision which would nullify the cap in cases where the plaintiff allege intentional misconduct, as opposed to gross negligence.
Republican proponents of the bill say that it aims to curb frivolous lawsuits, but by limiting punitive damages it would affect only those lawsuits where juries have already determined that a nursing home acted egregiously.
Opponents of the bill argue that the ability for the elderly to recover economic and compensatory damages is very limited and the law would defang the legal system’s ability to punish abusive nursing homes in Pennsylvania. In addition, some question the constitutionality of an arbitrary carte blanche legislative limit, which overrules the decision of a lawfully selected jury.
In addition to nursing homes, the cap would apply to health care professionals working in personal care homes, assisted living facilities, long-term care centers, hospices and other health care agencies.
The bill must still be approved by the state senate and the governor before it would go into effect.