Judge’s Ruling Sends Message to Negligent WV Nursing Home

A judge recently upheld a 2011 ruling that requires West Virginia nursing home chain HCR ManorCare to pay more than $90 million in a wrongful death suit. HCR ManorCare, which owns the Heartland of Charleston nursing home, was found responsible for negligent treatment of resident Dorothy Douglas, who died in 2009 from dehydration complications.

Several months after the 2011 jury verdict was reached in Douglas’s case, Heartland of Charleston was implicated in a second wrongful death suit. In the second case, staff failed to treat resident Christina L. Frazier’s infections, leading to her premature death.

In Douglas’s case, Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. upheld the jury’s original verdict, which called for $11.5 million in compensatory damages for Douglas’s family and $80 million in punitive damages. According to the website of a personal injury lawyer, punitive damages are fines leveled against the defendant to stop future negligent behavior. If you’ve been fined thousands of dollars for doing something you shouldn’t have done, you’re less likely to do it again in the future. If you are financially impacted by the fine, that is.

Lawyers for HCR ManorCare argued in May that West Virginia’s medical malpractice laws, which call for a cap on damages, should apply to the wrongful death suit and limit the settlement to no more than $500,000. However, Judge Zakaib Jr. ruled that the state’s Nursing Home Care Act does not require such a cap, and the $90 million settlement is legal. HCR ManorCare attorneys have already expressed their desire to appeal the case to West Virginia’s supreme court.

In his April decision, Judge Zakaib Jr. expressed his view that HCR ManorCare’s attempts to maximize profit were reckless and negligent.

“This verdict sends a clear ‘deterrence’ message to a multi-billion dollar nursing home corporation that its misconduct will not be tolerated,” Zakaib Jr. said.

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Miami Drivers Split on City’s Red Light Cameras

Some Miami drivers are seeing red this week, angered by traffic light surveillance cameras that help law enforcement officials write tickets. Miami commissioners meet Thursday to decide the fate of the city’s red-light cameras and whether to create a municipal appeals process for ticketed drivers.
Along with other Florida cities, Miami installed red-light cameras at high-risk intersections to cut down on instances of reckless driving and ticket residents who fail to stop fully at red lights.

According to Miami’s City Manager Johnny Martinez, since the 148 cameras were installed, the number of T-bone crashes caused by drivers rushing through an already-red light has been reduced. These accidents have one of the highest rates of serious injuries according to the website of Spiros Law, P.C. In addition to preventing possibly fatal accidents, supporters of the red-light camera program point out that the tickets increase city revenue, which funds projects from Jackson Memorial Hospital’s trauma center to The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

Red-light cameras have plenty of opponents, including mayoral candidate Francis Suarez, who accused the system of focusing on “generating revenue” rather than preventing accidents. Currently, a driver who receives a red-light ticket must pay a $158 fine (or $119 to appeal the ticket in court), although the proposed municipal appeals process would lower the appeals fine to approximately $50. Suarez criticized the program for bringing in $5.8 million last year. Supporters of the red-light camera program have brought attention to Suarez’s two unpaid red-light fines, tickets he claims “would not have been [given] by a police officer” and were the fault of a system expressly designed to ticket drivers.

Miami mayor Tomás Regalado, who has never received a red-light ticket, countered Suarez’s arguments and urged the city to continue the use of the cameras.

“This is about changing the driving culture and reducing the number of accidents,” Regalado said.

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