CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. on Thursday affirmed more than $90 million of a $91.5 million damage award that a jury awarded a man in August after his mother died after staying at the Heartland of Charleston nursing home.
Lawyers for HCR Manorcare, the umbrella organization that owns the Heartland nursing home chain, had argued that the award should be subject to the state's cap on medical malpractice verdicts, which limits non-economic damages in serious medical malpractice cases to $500,000
But in an order filed Thursday afternoon, Zakaib wrote that only $1 million of the massive award is subject to the medical malpractice caps.
Tom Douglas filed the lawsuit after his 87-year-old mother, Dorothy Douglas, died in 2009 after living there at Heartland of Charleston about three weeks.
Dorothy Douglas suffered from Alzheimer's and several other ailments when she was admitted to the facility -- a stay that was supposed to be temporary until a bed opened up at another facility in Huntington, lawyers said at the trial.
Before she arrived at Heartland, she could walk and speak and appeared to have recovered from previous low points that she had reached while living with her son.
After three weeks, she had become seriously dehydrated and was confined to a wheelchair, lawyers said at trial. She died on Oct. 11, 2009.
Lawmakers passed the medical malpractice caps nearly a decade ago, in response to doctors and other groups who said "frivolous" lawsuits were causing stratospheric insurance premiums and driving doctors out of the state.
The cap, however, applies strictly to medical negligence and requires juries to determine the percentage of medical negligence that occurred in malpractice cases. In Douglas' case, the jury found that only 20 percent of Heartland's negligence was medical.
Based on that figure, Zakaib found that non-economic damages accounted for about $5 million of the jury's award breakdown and ruled that only 20 percent of that applied to the caps, essentially shaving only $400,000 from the entire $91.5 million verdict.
Lawyers for both Tom Douglas and HCR Manorcare could not be reached for comment late Thursday afternoon. Lawyers for HCR Manorcare previously told the Gazette that they would appeal the damage award to the state Supreme Court.
Reach Zachary Taylor at zachary.tay...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.