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Committee-Approved Bill Would Cap Nursing Home Punitives

Written by NHAbuseGuide on June 2, 2015

A new bill approved by the Pennsylvania Senate Banking and Insurance Committee would see caps placed on punitive damage awards against nursing homes and similar patient care facilities.

From Investigation to Outright Ban

The new legislation, an amendment to Senate Bill 747 originally designed to pave the way for an investigation into whether it would be feasible to institute a cap on punitive damages, was initially introduced by Sentator Vogel according to the official Pennsylvania State Republicans website. While the state committee met to discuss the bill, Senator Joe Scarnati from Pennsylvania’s 25th District made the suggestion to further amend SB 747 to institute a cap of no more than 200 percent of the total compensation awarded in such cases.

There is precedent for such a cap in Pennsylvania. In fact, a separate law caps punitive damages against physicians by a similar amount. The new amendment would apply specifically to long-term care nursing facilities, their employees, and their officials, though cases of intentional misconduct would not be bound by the cap.

Out of State Impetus

The impetus behind the decision to push through a cap on punitive damages stems from a rash of what Senator Scarnati characterized as efforts from out-of-state law firms attempting to drum up business within Pennsylvania. The state senator specifically called out the actions of one Florida-based firm that has been linked to placing ads in local papers to target health care facilities and nursing homes within the state.

The lawsuits that have arisen from these ads – 33 of which have been placed since the beginning of 2015 alone, according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Association – have cost the state $91 million in court costs and legal fees, Senator Scarnati remarked. “This process does not help Pennsylvania residents who are in nursing home facilities today,” he remarked, adding that it does nothing but “to scare families and put our state Medicaid monies into the pockets of out-of-state law firms, while doing nothing to help strengthen nursing homes and the care that they provide.”

A House Divided

While the Republican members of the committee voted unanimously to approve the bill, four democratic state senators on the committee voted against the measure. Sean Wiley, senator for the 49th District of Pennsylvania, remarked that approving a bill that had originally been meant to simply authorize an investigation into the issue of whether a cap could be warranted was akin to “putting the cart before the horse,” according to Law360.

Another democratic state senator on the committee, Senator Larry Farnese from the 1st District, also spoke out against the committee’s decision. Keeping the possibility of punitive damages is a necessary deterrent to elder abuse in nursing homes and patient care facilities, the state senator said, adding that “corporations will look at the bottom line and they will curb their conduct and do what is necessary and change their ways because of the bottom line.” The fear is that with less incentive to do so, the corporations that own and manage these patient care facilities may not be as stringent in enforcing their patient care standards.

This lack of enforcement is rapidly becoming a perceived problem in the United States, especially as the population continues to age as a result of better medical care and longer lifespans. Fear of elder abuse has led many families to grow more concerned for the well-being of their older relatives; if you have suspicions that one of your loved ones is being subjected to elder abuse, you can contact your state’s Elder Abuse Hotline or a reputable law firm.







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