The Pennsylvania House of Representatives, in a 103-91 decision, recently defeated a bill to cap punitive damages in lawsuits involving assisted-living communities, personal care homes, and nursing homes. The House Bill called for limiting punitive damages against facilities and agents of the facility to 250 percent of compensatory damages awarded. This legislation would have amended the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Act, which imposes limits on punitive damages in lawsuits against physicians.
The Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA), a state affiliate of the American Health Care Association, was one of the industry organizations that supported the legislation. PHCA President and CEO W. Russell McDaid stated that long-term care facilities are looking for similar protection to physicians, who have a cap on damages in lawsuits filed against them to 200 percent of the amount of compensatory damages. McDaid additionally noted that out-of-state law firms advertise in newspapers across the state and then file frivolous lawsuits against these facilities, asking for punitive damages — and that this encourages defendants to settle lawsuits for fear of punitive damages being awarded.
Although the bill failed, there are still actions long-term care providers can take to limit potential exposure to punitive damages in these cases. Facilities and their counsel should remain proactive and look for opportunities to try and have punitive damages dismissed on preliminary objections, when appropriate, and also at the summary judgment phase.
For more information on the potential impact of this development on your facility, please contact: