Plaintiff awarded $500,000 in punitive damages in nursing home trial

By Jon Campisi | Sep 22, 2011

After only the second day of the second phase of a nursing home neglect trial, a 12-member Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury awarded the adult daughter of a man who died after receiving alleged sub-par care a half-million dollars in punitive damages.

During their first and only day of deliberations in the trial’s second phase, the jury in Williams vs. Willow Terrace awarded Camay Williams $500,000 in total punitive damages. The award was split $400,000 against defendant Willow Terrace, the nursing home at the center of the trial, and $100,000 against defendant Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, according to plaintiff’s attorney Pete Giglione, of the law firm Wilkes & McHugh.

“The Mackey family is gratified that justice has been done. All that they wanted was for someone to be held accountable [for] what happened to their husband and father,” Giglione said in a statement following the Wednesday afternoon verdict. “His story was finally told.”

“The family hopes that the corporations that own and operate nursing homes and medical facilities in southeastern Pennsylvania and beyond take notice of this verdict, and operate their facilities the right way so that other people are not harmed,” Giglione continued.

Earlier in the day, the attorney’s for both sides gave their closing arguments, with plaintiff’s counsel urging the jury to award punitive damages, while the defendant’s lawyer stated that his clients have already been punished enough.

“Your verdict still hasn’t gotten their attention,” Bennie Lazzara, an attorney with Wilkes & McHugh, told the jury.

Williams, his client, who sued on behalf of her late father, Marcel Mackey Sr., who died as a result of pressure ulcers and other injuries while under the care of the defendants, has suffered a great loss in the passing of her father, Lazzara said.

But for defendants Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, and it’s affiliate, the Willow Terrace nursing home, it’s business as usual, he said.

Lazzara questioned why higher-ups with Einstein and Willow Terrace hadn’t come to court to express their sympathies and apologies for Mackey’s May 2008 death.

Defense attorney Michael Sabo said his job was to represent the defendants in court.

“Your message has been heard … from the first-level employee all the way up to the upper echelons of the network,” Sabo said.

During his own closing argument, Sabo refuted the plaintiff’s attorney’s claims that his clients have failed to take responsibility for Mackey’s death.

At the same time, with a network as large as Einstein, which serves the healthcare needs of many people throughout the Delaware Valley, any punitive damages award could hurt the little guy, he said, from the healthcare worker who had nothing to do with this litigation, to the patients who are served by Einstein-affiliated physicians.

“It’s the people that make up the organization, it’s the people who deliver the healthcare,” who will feel the brunt of a punitive damages award, Sabo told the jury.

“The award that you rendered in the compensatory phase was a significant award.”

In August, the jury awarded the plaintiff $2.287 million. The 12 men and women had determined that the defendants were neglectful in the care of Mackey, who had been in and out of the hospital and nursing homes since first suffering a stroke.

The trial before Common Pleas Court Judge Ricardo C. Jackson included testimony from healthcare providers and forensic accountants to Mackey’s widow and adult daughter.

Wednesday’s proceedings started out with Sabo asking the judge to bar the plaintiff’s attorney’s from rehashing details of the case that were touched on during the compensatory and liability phase of the trial. The plaintiff’s lawyers agreed to keep their final comments short.

However, during Lazzara’s closing statement, Sabo objected multiple times. Most of the objections were sustained by Jackson.

One thing the judge did allow the plaintiff’s attorneys to address was the apparent impact that Mackey’s death had on his surviving loved ones.

And that death, Lazzara and the other plaintiff’s attorneys said, was the direct result of the care, or lack thereof, given to Mackey by the defendants.

“They’re still not listening to your verdict,” Lazzara told the jury, referencing the defendants. “Where was the corporate supervision. Their conduct here demands a serious and significant punitive damages award.”

Sabo, however, disagreed that his clients have yet to accept blame for what happened to Mackey.

“Your message has been received,” he told the jury, referencing the millions in compensatory damages dolled out. “It’s very easy to kick somebody when they’re down. Please don’t punish this healthcare system any further.”

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