Court Reverses $5000000 Plaintiff Verdict in Case Involving Assisted Living Facility
On January 5, 2012, the Tennessee Court of Appeals (Middle District-Nashville) reversed a $5,000,000 punitive damages jury verdict (and $150,000 actual damages award) by a Bedford County, Tennessee jury against Americare Systems, Inc., the management company of Celebration Way, a Shelbyville, Tennessee assisted living facility. The jury found direct liability against the management company for failing to provide adequate staff at the facility, which plaintiff contended resulted in the death of a resident from a perforated bowel after administration of an enema by a nurse at the facility.
At trial, the court directed a verdict on liability against Americare for any negligence of employees of Celebration Way and on numerous allegations of negligence against the facility’s Administrator and Director of Nursing. The jury apportioned 30% fault on the assisted living facility Administrator, who was also a registered nurse, 20% fault on the Director of Nursing, a licensed practical nurse, and 50% fault on Americare, based only on its failure to provide sufficient personnel at Celebration Way. The jury awarded $30,000 in compensatory damages, as well as $10,000 in punitive damages against the Administrator, $5,000 in punitive damages against the Director of Nursing, and $5,000,000 in punitive damages against Americare.
In reversing the damages awards against Americare, the Court of Appeals found that there was no material evidence to support the conclusion that the resident’s death was caused by staffing decisions made by Americare, resulting in the setting aside of all damages, including punitive damages, against Americare for claims related to Americare’s direct liability. The Court of Appeals did not, however, address the issue of whether expert testimony was required on plaintiff’s claims of direct liability related to staffing, based on its decision concerning the causation element.
We will continue to monitor any further appellate rulings on this case, which will likely be appealed to The Tennessee Supreme Court.