CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Supreme Court will decide later this year whether to overturn a $90 million verdict in connection with the death of an elderly woman who received care at a Charleston nursing home.
The Court heard arguments Wednesday on the appeal filed by the corporate parent of Heartland of Charleston. A jury found in favor of the Dorothy Douglass family in 2011. The 87-year-old Douglass died 18 days after her 19-day stay at Heartland. The jury found the nursing home failed to feed and care for her. The panel awarded the plaintiffs $90 million.
Attorney Ben Bailey, who argued the case Wednesday for Heartland’s parent company Manor Care, said the jury’s decision should have fallen under the state’s medical malpractice cap where up to $500,000 can be awarded for noneconomic damages. Bailey also argued the verdict form the jury used was flawed.
“I don’t see how any reasonable jury can be anything but confused,” Bailey told members of the Supreme Court.
But the attorney for the Douglass family, Michael Fuller, told the Court Heartland’s former defense attorneys had a hand in the formation of the verdict form.
“They didn’t want as many lines to be on the verdict form for the jury to find liability in as many ways as they could prevent and that’s the way they tried the case,” Fuller contended. “Right or wrong that’s a trial strategy.”
The jury found Heartland responsible for $80 million in punitive damages and $10 million in other areas. Their attorneys believe the punitive damages should be vacated. State Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis was having none of that argument Wednesday.
“Don’t even say that they’re warranted in this case. What that woman went through for 19 days was horrible,” Davis said.
Dorothy Douglass died from complications of dementia.
The Supreme Court will make a decision on the case later this year.