Hold Down W.Va. Nursing Home Costs

When health care professionals make mistakes – or worse, intentionally take chances with patients’ well-being – they ought to be forced to pay for their lapses. But when greedy trial lawyers jeopardize the very quality and availability of health care for West Virginians, the state Supreme Court has a responsibility to intervene.

High court justices are being asked to review a Kanawha County Circuit Court judgment against a Charleston-area nursing home. The lower court awarded the family of a deceased 87-year-old woman $90.5 million in damages against the nursing home, because of its responsibility in her death.

Of that amount, the court viewed $10.5 million as reasonable in actual damages to the woman’s family. The additional $80 million is punitive damages, meant solely to punish the nursing home (and, of course, its insurer).

Medical malpractice cases cannot be viewed in isolation, however. If the $80 million in punitive damages is allowed to stand, rest assured it will discourage establishment of new nursing homes and sale of existing ones in West Virginia. Nursing homes will pay much more for insurance – and that will mean stays in them will cost more.

In other words, the Mountain State will have fewer nursing home beds and they will be more expensive unless the state Supreme Court overturns the $80 million judgment.

A $10.5 million loss amply punishes the nursing home. Let’s not penalize tens of thousands of older West Virginians, too.