Tennessee Victory for Nursing Home Residents
For some years now, the nursing home industry has been abusing the Tennessee Medical Malpractice Act (TMMA) in its application to nursing homes. Tennessee’s Medical Malpractice Act is similar to that of other states, and its initial passage was primarily intended to drop the number of lawsuits against doctors, not nursing homes. Nursing Home Corporations are fond of the TMMA because they believe it narrows the scope of evidence that a jury may hear, and it imposes stricter legal requirements on victims of abuse, making it harder to pursue their claims. For example, in many pressure sore cases, the evidence is that the resident was neglected and not turned every two hours while being left to lie in urine and feces until it dried on their skin. This shocking neglect happens because the nursing home did not have sufficient numbers of trained staff to meet the needs of the resident. Nursing home companies have been arguing for years that such evidence is inadmissible under the TMMA, which they contend is the only permissible action against a nursing home. Nursing Home companies are afraid for juries to hear the truth about what really happens in their facilities, and they use the TMMA as a way to conceal evidence.
In fact, the failure by a nurse’s aid to turn a resident over in bed, clean up a resident after an incontinent episode, or give the resident water, or feed the resident is not complex medical care delivered by a medical professional, but ordinary negligence. Without question, the evidence nursing home companies seek to hide from juries is clearly admissible when classified as ordinary negligence. The Tennessee Adult Protection Act (TAPA) also gives nursing home residents a private cause of action when they have been mistreated in a nursing home. Seasoned advocates for nursing home residents typically bring TAPA claims in addition to ordinary negligence and medical negligence claims for their clients, but the nursing home companies oppose being held responsible under TAPA as well.
There are federal and state regulations setting forth quality of care requirements that mirror the standard of care. The regulations are quite simple — a resident should be hydrated and nourished; a resident should receive care to prevent the formation of pressure sores; a resident should be provided a safe environment, etc. Any competent nurse will admit that these are basic standards of care a nursing home must meet. Yet the nursing home companies have sought for years to hide these regulations from juries.
The Tennessee Supreme Court finally shut down the nursing home companies in a resounding victory for nursing home residents and victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. In French v. Stratford House, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that not everything happening in a nursing home is subject to the restrictive TMMA, and in fact, residents may have ordinary negligence claims and TAPA claims. The Court also ruled that violations of quality of care regulations are in fact evidence of negligence, which a jury may consider.
I’m humbled and honored to represent this client in a case that nursing home advocates have been awaiting for many years.