$160 million for (someone else’s) beating

The family of Tranquilino Mendoza agrees that he received good care from a nursing home, until he was paired with a mentally ill roommate, who beat Mendoza with his fists and a water pitcher, the thirtieth time or so he had assaulted someone at the home. Mendoza recovered from his injuries, and died less than three years later from unrelated causes. The jury felt that his estate deserved $160 million in damages. Liability may be appropriate (it’s unclear from the press coverage what the nursing home could have done differently, since the roommate had to be placed somewhere), but the damages figure appears off by three orders of magnitude. (Sheila Hotchkin, “Jury awards $160 million in nursing home suit”, San Antonio Express-News, Feb. 23).

5 Comments

  • Could the nursing home have ejected the one who hit other people? If not, then this is even more ludicrous.

    $160 MILLION? That’s insane.

  • Well, I agree that the amount is way too high, but that’ll almost certainly get reduced.

    But I have to disagree about the liability. If the mentally ill person attacked 12 other persons, I would think the facility had a duty get rid of him. And if it could not get rid of him, then it had a duty to keep him locked away from other people.

    Imagine if the facility had some other dangerous thing on its property, e.g., a leaking microwave that hurt 12 prior people. Certainly, the facility has a duty to keep its grounds safe. Certainly the prior instances give knowledge. Proximate cause seems pretty clear. And I’m assuming there was an actual injury.

    Unless you guys want to toss out 120 years of tort law, I don’t really understand what’s so egregious about this. (Other than the aforementioned award, which as I said, will almost certainly get reduced.)

  • Normally I agree with most of the posts here, but concluding that the injury was bound to occur because
    “…it’s unclear from the press coverage what the nursing home could have done differently, since the roommate had to be placed somewhere”

    This assumes that the violent offender indeed had to be placed in a room with anyone. Perhaps after sufficient prior assaults this person should have been given a private room. If the institution is a private then it has the option to find other accomodations for this violent person. If necessary, one of those other thirty or so episodes of an attack could have had criminal charges filed against the patient so that he could be cared for by the state in a secure mental facility.

    I will agree that the amount of money is excessive because it vastly overcompensates the injured party.

  • Judging by the comments, my remark on liability appears to have been sufficiently poorly stated to have been misconstrued. I agree that under the vast majority of scenarios, the nursing home is at least partially liable. I merely meant to acknowledge the possibility that there exist scenarios where the nursing home should not be held liable, and that we don’t have enough facts to rule that out. (For example, we don’t know how serious the previous “thirty assaults” were, what steps the hospital had taken to medicate the patient, and what regulations (if any) prohibited the hospital from doing more to restrain or remove the assaulter.)

    Still, I mention the suit entirely because of the damages award; had the damages been reasonable, I wouldn’t have posted about the verdict at all.

  • Maybe the nursing home kept putting a violent maniac in a room with some frail oldster just to save the money for a private cell. You can’t get many facts from that newspaper article, but it’s possible that the jurors felt that the nursing home should be punished for avoiding a small loss on a private room for a dangerous maniac by imposing a huge loss on them. Even so, $160 million is ridiculous.

    What else could the nursing home have done? They can’t keep patients strait-jacketed forever, nor is there any safe drug dosage sufficient to keep some people quiet. It sure sounds like he belonged in a secure mental institution, but according to Grits for Breakfast, Texas state hospitals are full.