Court Nullifies $2.3 Million Nursing Home Injury Verdict
Last week, a lower appeals court called for a new trial in the Temple Estate of Temple v. Providence Care Center, LLC nursing home injury case, citing issuance of improper jury directives. The decision came after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a mistrial in July following a $2.25 million jury verdict.
An Alzheimer’s patient, Elma Betty Temple, became a Providence Care Center resident in 2008. The Pennsylvania Providence company has the nursing home’s ownership and administrative power, while the Grand Healthcare Company undertakes management services of the facility.
On November 28, 2011, Temple endured a slip and fall accident while walking along a ramp. She was 81 years old at that time. The fall caused a right elbow laceration, along with a right humerus and right pelvis fracture. Elma’s son, James Temple, filed a complaint against Grand and Providence Care Center on September 26, 2012. The suit alleges corporate and willful negligence.
The suit contends that the nursing home should have been aware of Elma’s condition and provided the necessary supervision because she had a history of two fall incidents in 2011. According to the suit, Providence did not supervise Elma at the time of the incident. It further accused the facility of being understaffed and irresponsible in providing required safety measures.
In an initial trial from May 2016, occurring over an eight-day period, three issues were highlighted related to the dispute. One was evidential admission in regard to the facility’s alleged understaffing. The second point was related to the testimony to the alleged star rating of the nursing home. The third issue raised was the appellant’s closing argument’s propriety.
The trial court denied the motion for nonsuit to Providence and a motion for a directed verdict on punitive damages.
The jury initially deliberated over Providence’s alleged negligence, along with the consideration of sought compensatory damages. In the process, Providence was found guilty of recklessness and negligence. The jury awarded $2 million in compensatory damages. In the trial’s second phase, the jury awarded $250,000 in punitive damages.
In July, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the trial court proclaimed a mistrial of sua sponte, or of its own accord, citing that the existence of power was on only during the manifestation of injustice “of a constitutional or structural nature.”
The case was remanded to the lower appeals court by the state high court, petitioning it to resolve doubtful issues on appeal.
On Tuesday, January 5, 2021, the panel on remand established that the jury was inadequately asked to decide whether recklessness was committed by Providence or not, based on the opinion of James Temple’s medical expert, nurse Charlotte Sheppard. Sheppard stated that Providence acted with “reckless disregard” for the safety of its patient. She opined without deciphering between recklessness and negligence, nor providing any facts in the process.
The panel said, “Accordingly, we agree with the trial court that Nurse Sheppard’s reckless disregard testimony and the trial court’s jury instruction on recklessness were improper.”
The panel further added the failure of rebuttal by James Temple against Providence’s argument. Providence argued that the jury improperly weighted Sheppard’s weak testimony. It also claimed that the inaccurate directive of recklessness “invited the jury to punish Providence instead of compensating Elma for her damages.”
The jury’s opinion also stated, “Because the record reflects that these errors misled the jury and contributed to its rendering an unfair compensatory damages verdict, and because appellant proffers no persuasive argument to the contrary, we conclude that Providence suffered prejudice from these mistakes.”