HCR ManorCare Services, Inc. v. Tom Douglas

On September 4, 2009, Dorothy Douglas (hereinafter “Ms. Douglas”) was admitted to Heartland Nursing Home in Charleston, West Virginia. Although Ms. Douglas was eighty-seven years old at the time of her admission to Heartland Nursing Home, and she suffered from Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, and other health issues, she was, nevertheless, able to walk with the use of a walker, able to recognize and communicate with her family, well-nourished, and well-hydrated. After spending nineteen days in Heartland Nursing Home, Ms. Douglas had become dehydrated, malnourished, bed ridden, and barely responsive. In addition, she had fallen numerous times, sustained head trauma and bruises, and suffered from sores in her mouth and throat that required the scraping away of dead tissue and debris. Following her nineteen-day stay at Heartland Nursing Home, Ms. Douglas was transferred to another nursing facility, then to Cabell Huntington Hospital, and ultimately to a Hospice care facility where she passed away eighteen days after leaving Heartland Nursing Home. According to her treating physician at Cabell Huntington Hospital, Ms. Douglas died as a result of severe dehydration.

Evidence presented at trial demonstrated that Heartland Nursing Home had been chronically understaffed. There had been numerous complaints from residents and their families, as well as by Heartland Nursing Home employees. At least one employee who complained of understaffing was reprimanded for her complaint, and the complaint was apparently removed from Heartland Nursing Home records. Additionally, and notwithstanding attempts to conceal the understaffing, surveys by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services documented Heartland Nursing Home’s understaffing and improper records pertaining to staff that occurred prior to Ms. Douglas’ admission to that facility. Nevertheless, Heartland Nursing Home remained understaffed and, as a result, Ms. Douglas did not survive the adverse effects of her stay there. Ms. Douglas’ son, Tom Douglas, individually and on behalf of the estate of his mother (hereinafter “Mr. Douglas”), filed suit against various corporate entities related to Heartland: Manor Care, Inc.; HCR Manor Care Services, Inc.; Health Care and Retirement Corporation of America, LLC; and Heartland Employment Services, LLC. Manor Care, Inc., is a holding company that owns the stock of the other named businesses. HCR Manor Care Services, Inc., was the management company. Health Care and Retirement Corporation of America, LLC, owned skilled nursing facilities and other health care facilities such as assisted living and hospice facilities; this corporate entity apparently also held the operating licenses for Heartland Nursing Home and other nursing homes it owned. Heartland Employment Services, LLC., employed the workers, including administrators and regional directors, who were then leased to Health Care and Retirement Corporation of America, LLC.

Mr. Douglas asserted causes of action including negligence under the MPLA,10 violations of the NHA, an alleged breach of fiduciary duty, and corporate negligence. Following a ten-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Douglas in the amount of $11.5 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages. MC Companies then filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law, which the circuit court denied. This appeal followed.