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Pennsylvania Courts Continue to Extend Theories of Liability in Nursing Home Malpractice Cases


Pennsylvania Courts Continue to Extend Theories of Liability in Nursing Home Malpractice Cases

August 31, 2017

A recently published opinion from the Superior Court of Pennsylvania provides guidance on when nursing home management companies may be found liable to their residents in nursing malpractice actions.

In Scampone v. Grane Healthcare Company et al., the plaintiff sued the nursing home  where his mother had been a resident (Highland Park) as well as the management company  that oversaw the nursing home (Grane Healthcare), contending that both were liable for a urinary tract infection and a subsequent fatal heart attack that his mother sustained in 2004. After the trial court dismissed Grane at the close of the plaintiff’s evidence, a jury found Highland liable, awarding damages in the amount of $193,500.

On appeal, the Superior Court reversed, finding that Grane was subject to vicarious liability while the nursing home was subject to direct corporate liability. On remand, the Superior Court directed the trial court to ascertain whether Grane owed any duties to the plaintiff. The trial court dismissed Grane a second time, finding that Grane did not owe any duties to the plaintiff.

In a lengthy opinion, the Superior Court once again reversed, finding that the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence at trial to preclude the dismissal of Grane at the close of the plaintiff’s evidence. In reaching this opinion, the court provided useful guidance on when a court will find that a management company owes a duty to a nursing home resident and when this duty has been breached.  

Critical to the court’s decision in determining that the plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence on Grane’s duty to the plaintiff were several facts that established that Grane “contractually undertook to render services to residents of [Highland]” that “Grane should have recognized … were necessary for the protection of those elderly and infirm residents.”  These facts included the following:

  1. The management agreement between Highland and Grane “required Grane to manage all aspects of the operation of Highland, establish and administer a quality assurance program, and ensure that [Highland] provided quality nursing services to its residents.”
  2. Grane “hired and trained all of the RNs” at Highland, and “a Grane nurse consultant visited Highland weekly and directly oversaw patient care delivered at the facility.”
  3. Grane “created and disseminated the policies and procedures” at Highland.
  4. The administrator of Highland was “subject to the supervision of a Grane employee.”

Instrumental to the court’s determination in finding that the plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence that Grane had breached its duty to the plaintiff were facts that, according to the court, established that Grane was aware that Highland was understaffed. The court stated, “A jury could find that lack of sufficient staff was a contributing factor in the pervasive improper care and [plaintiff decedent’s] death.”

The court ultimately granted a new trial as to the plaintiff’s compensatory damages against Grane, noting that the plaintiff was entitled to recover from Grane in light of the jury’s verdict against Highland.

In light of this opinion, management companies of nursing homes in Pennsylvania should closely review their relationship with any facilities to which they are providing management services and scrutinize any documentation of that relationship to ensure that it does not misrepresent the actual relationship between the parties. Pennsylvania courts have increasingly extended potential liability theories against nursing homes, and providers in the Commonwealth would be well-advised to take into account this shifting litigation landscape to assess when they may be subject to liability in a nursing malpractice action.

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