It is worth noting that situations similar to those described in this elder abuse case could just as easily occur at any of the healthcare facilities in the area, such as Kaiser Permanente, UC Davis Medical Center, Mercy, Sutter, or any skilled nursing facility.
(Please also note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this wrongful death case and its proceedings.)
Wrongful Death Damages
Ms. Hill’s daughter has a claim for wrongful death. These claims will not be capped by MICRA for the same reasons discussed above in the preceding section, namely that is an elder abuse case and MICRA does not apply to elder abuse causes of action under Covenant Care, Delaney, Benun, and Country Vila, among others.
Punitive Damages Under California Civil Code Section 3294
Plaintiffs’ evidence demonstrates that defendants’ conduct was despicable and was carried out with a willful and conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others. This is malice. Conduct punishable by California Civil Code section 3295 involves intentional, willful, or conscious wrongdoing of a despicable or injurious nature. Cal. Civ. Code § 3294(c). From this conduct, it can be inferred that XYZ had the intention of depriving Ms. Hill of her legal right to be treated within the standard of care set by the federal and state regulations and their own policies and procedures, and, of course, causing her severe injury and death. Plaintiffs therefore have put forth evidence which could unhesitatingly persuade every reasonable mind that defendants’ conduct was so base, vile or contemptible that it should be punished. For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.
According to the United States Supreme Court, a court imposing punitive damages should assess, (1) the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct, (2) the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages, and (3) the difference between the punitive damages award and the civil penalties authorized or imposed in comparable cases. BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 574-76 (1996).
Notably, the most important indicium of the reasonableness of a punitive damages award is the “degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct.” State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 419 (2003). From plaintiffs’ perspective, the first factor – the degree of reprehensibility of the defendants’ conduct – clearly militates toward a substantial punitive damages award. Defendants deliberately have inserted themselves into a field that requires them to care for the most vulnerable members of our society. As is discussed in great detail above, having done that, defendants utterly neglected Ms. Hill resulting in, among other things, Ms. Hill suffering a fractured hip, a delay of seven days in treatment for her painful and debilitating fractured hip, and a full thickness pressure sore that was identified on her death certificate as among the causes of her death. In doing so, defendants Universal flagrantly violated federal and state laws governing skilled nursing facilities.
As to the third factor, there are no statutory civil penalties to which a punitive damages award could be compared.
Regarding the second factor, although the Supreme Court has emphasized that punitive damage awards violate due process when they constitute an arbitrary deprivation of property, the Court has repeatedly declined to impose a bright-line ratio which a punitive damages award cannot exceed. Campbell, 538 U.S. at 425. Moreover, federal and state courts across the country regularly have approved of punitive damages awards with punitive to compensatory damage ratios that are in the double and even triple digits, even after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Campbell.
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.