Punitive damages phase of nursing home neglect trial gets under way

By Jon Campisi | Sep 21, 2011

After a month break, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury on Tuesday was brought back for the second phase in a nursing home neglect trial, one in which they awarded more than $2 million in damages to the plaintiff at the end of phase one.

Phase two in Williams vs. Willow Terrace will deal exclusively with punitive damages against the remaining two defendants.

In August, after a more than three-week trial, the 12-member jury in Williams vs. Willow Terrace returned a plaintiff’s verdict, awarding $2,287,000 to Philadelphia resident Camay Williams, who, as executrix of her late father’s estate, sued a handful of medical care facilities for neglect.

Marcel Mackey, Sr., Williams’ father, had died in May 2008 after battling pressure ulcers and other serious health problems that the plaintiffs contended was directly related to his hospital and nursing home stays.

Williams filed suit a year after her father’s death.

The original defendants in the case were Philadelphia-based nursing home Willow Terrace, Albert Einstein Medical Center and Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, St. Agnes Continuing Care Center, St. Agnes Long Term Care, LLP, Methodist Hospital and Mercy Health System.

At the conclusion of the compensatory damages and liability phase of the trial, the only defendants who remained were Willow Terrace and Albert Einstein Healthcare Network.

On Tuesday, during the start of phase two of the trial before Common Pleas Court Judge Ricardo Jackson, plaintiff’s attorney Pete Giglione, of the firm Wilkes & McHugh, urged the men and women of the jury to not stop with compensatory damages, saying the defendants’ actions amounted to recklessness, a point reiterated throughout the trial.

Defense attorney Michael Sabo reminded the jury that they needn’t award punitives; the message the jury sent to the defendants during the compensatory phase of the trial was “loud and clear,” he said.

Tuesday’s proceedings were a relatively dry numbers game, with each attorney calling his own witness who specializes in forensics accounting.

Giglione called Angelo Troncoso, a retired special agent with the Internal Revenue Service, while Sabo called to the witness stand Howard Silverstone, a partner with Forensic Resolutions, Inc.

Each man had been asked to pour over pages of documents relating to Albert Einstein Healthcare Network’s finances.

Specifically, the witnesses and the jury were directed to Einstein’s IRS forms. Because the healthcare network is a certified nonprofit organization, the defense is seeking to show that the organization doesn’t have buckets of money to pay toward a possible punitive damages award.

The plaintiff’s attorney’s, however, are determined to show that just because an organization is deemed “not-for-profit” doesn’t mean it isn’t making any money.

For example, the plaintiff’s attorneys showed that top employees for Einstein were paid a total of $9,497,960 in 2009, while the healthcare network as a whole took in total revenues of $138,052,480 for that same year.

Sabo, however, attempted to show that the figures being thrown around weren’t as cut and dry as the plaintiff’s would have one believe.

“These numbers are very deceiving,” Sabo said.

Albert Einstein Healthcare Network consists of various entities, Sabo said, so certain monetary figures being shown by plaintiff’s counsel isn’t necessarily reflective of the parent company’s true financial situation.

Sabo told the jury the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network employs thousands and thousands of medical professionals throughout the region, and a large punitive damages award could potentially affect the livelihood of professionals who had nothing to do with this litigation.

“It’s going to affect the delivery of healthcare in the Delaware Valley,” Sabo said.

The plaintiff’s attorneys, however, aim to use this phase of the trial to show that what the two defendants did was wrong, and what better way to show that than with a substantial punitive damages verdict.

Plaintiff’s attorney Ruben J. Krisztal said during this phase, the jury would be asked to “send a message … you will not tolerate this kind of behavior that was [evident] in this case.”

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