The state Court of Appeals has overturned a $53 million damage award to the family of an Albuquerque woman who died in a nursing home.
The court ordered a new trial. The daughter of 78-year Barbara Barber filed a lawsuit alleging her mother died in December 2004 of gastrointestinal bleeding that went untreated by the nursing home staff.
In tossing out the jury verdict, the appeals court said a district judge was wrong in a pretrial finding that ManorCare Inc., a Toledo, Ohio-based company, was the employer of the nursing home’s staff. The court said there was conflicting evidence on that issue. ManorCare contended that a subsidiary company owned and operated the Albuquerque nursing home, which was sold in 2005.
According to the lawsuit, Barber’s death was unexpected by her family and she was preparing to leave the nursing home later in December to live with a grandson.
Carl Bettinger, a lawyer for Barber’s daughter, Lori Keith, said the appeals court ruling focused on a “technical issue” of whether the nursing home’s parent company was in control of the staff at the Albuquerque facility.
After finding Barber dead, the nursing home staff removed bloody bedding, cleaned her and returned her to the bed before calling her daughter.
A jury in Albuquerque awarded $3.2 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.
ManorCare appealed the jury’s 2007 verdict. Among its arguments, ManorCare contended that the punitive damages were excessive. But the appeals court said it did not need to consider that issue in ordering a new trial.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the appeals court, the Washington, D.C.-based National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Care Reform said ManorCare tried in the lawsuit to use “the tangled corporate structure of the ManorCare empire” to clear it of any responsibility for punitive damages.
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