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Skilled Nursing Home and Healthcare Company Responsible for Operations Subject to Direct Liability Under Pennsylvania Corporate Negligence


A resident of a nursing home received care for a number of ailments. She was susceptible to urinary tract infections. She was admitted to a hospital with another urinary tract infection, dehydration, malnutrition, bedsores, and an acute myocardial infarction. Ten days later the ninety-four-year-old died of a heart attack.

 

Her estate sued the nursing home and a corporation providing management services at the nursing home for negligence under the Survival Act and wrongful death. The complaint alleged that the defendants were both directly liable and vicariously liable for the negligent acts of their employees and other agents.

 

At the close of the plaintiff’s case, the defendants moved for a nonsuit on punitive damages claims, on all claims against the management services corporation, and on the claims of direct liability against the nursing home. The trial court granted the motion with regards to punitive damages and the management services corporation, but denied the motion with regards to the nursing home. The jury found the nursing home directly and vicariously liable for negligence. Both parties appealed.

 

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of nonsuit with respect to the nursing home’s direct liability. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of nonsuit with respect to punitive damages and all claims against the management services corporation. The court of appeals remanded for a new trial. The nursing home and the management services corporation appealed.

 

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the court of appeals in part and remanded to the trial court holding that corporate negligence is a viable cause of action against a skilled nursing facility and the company that provides management services to the facility. A corporation can be both directly liable and vicariously liable for negligence. A corporation is vicariously liable for its agent’s negligence. A corporation is directly liable when it breaches a duty of care owed directly to a plaintiff, separate from the duty owed to the plaintiff by its agents. For example, a corporation may owe a duty to maintain safe facilities or to hire and oversee competent staff.

 

As Pennsylvania’s legislative branch has not conferred immunity from liability upon nursing homes or related entities, nursing homes and affiliated corporate entities are subject to potential direct liability for negligence, where the requisite resident-entity relationship exists to establish that the entity owes the resident a duty of care. The question that must be answered on remand is whether the nursing home and the management services corporation owed the decedent legal duties or obligations.

 

See: Scampone v. Highland Park Care Center, LLC, 2012 WL 5894904 (Pa., November 21, 2012) (not designated for publication).

 

 

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