Monday, April 26, 2021

Judge Terrence R. Nealon Addresses Claims of Recklessness Under MCARE Act


In the case of Doughitt v. Saber Health Care Group, LLC, No. 20-CV-3136 (C.P. Lacka. Co. April 22, 2021 Nealon, J.), the court addressed issues regarding claims of punitive damages in a medical malpractice action involving Wrongful Death and Survival claims.

This case was brought by an estate and daughter of a former nursing home resident under a medical professional liability claim alleging corporate and individual negligence and recklessness by the Defendants which allegedly resulted in the nursing home resident’s death.

In the Complaint, the Plaintiff confirmed that she was seeking damages under the Wrongful Death Act and the Survival Act, including demands for compensatory and punitive damages.

The Defendants filed Preliminary Objections in the nature of a demurrer seeking to strike the claims for punitive damages on the grounds that those claims were insufficient as a matter of law under §505(a) of the medical care availability and reduction of error (MCARE) Act, 40 P.S. §1303.505(a).

Judge Nealon noted that §505(a) of the MCARE Act is consistent with other Pennsylvania case law governing punitive damages in that the Act provides that punitive damages are recoverable for a healthcare provider’s “willful or wanton conduct or reckless indifference to the rights of others.”

Judge Terrence R. Nealon
Lackawanna County 


Reiterating his previous rationale as stated in other decisions regarding claims of recklessness, Judge Nealon noted that, although wanton and willful misconduct and recklessness are considered under the law to be conditions of the mind such that they may be averred generally pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. 1019(b), the court found that the Plaintiff in this matter still alleged sufficient facts in any event that would factually support a finding of wanton or reckless indifference by the Defendant’s in any event.

More specifically, the court noted that the Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant’s intentionally increased a number of infirm residents with complex health conditions in order to increase their governmental reimbursements, knowingly establish staffing levels that were insufficient, repeatedly ignored staff reports regarding alleged alarming increases in infections and illnesses within the facility, and other allegations.

Judge Nealon went on to note that, generally speaking, in a Survival action, the decedent’s estate is permitted to pursue claims that the decedent could have asserted if he or she had lived. In contrast, the Wrongful Death action is brought by specified relatives of the decedent to compensate those surviving family members for the losses that they have sustained as a result of the decedent’s death.

The court noted that, consequently, the decedent’s estate may recover punitive damages in a Survival action if the decedent could have recovered those types of damages had he or she survived. However, under Pennsylvania, punitive damages are not recoverable in a Wrongful Death action.

As such, the court sustained the Defendant’s demurrer to the punitive damages claims only with respect to the Plaintiff’s punitive damages claims asserted in the Wrongful Death action. The Defendant’s demurrer was overruled in all other respects.


Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.


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