In the recent case of Vincent v. Alden-Park Strathmoor, Inc., No. 110406, 2011 WL 1077706 (Ill.Sup.Ct.), the Supreme Court reviewed the nursing home malpractice lawsuit to determine whether or not punitive damages are allowed in the event that the wronged party is deceased. The Vincent case was filed by the family members of Majorie Vincent, an elderly resident of Alden-Park Strathmoor, after Majorie died while living at the long-term nursing facility.
Majorie’s family filed a complaint under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, which alleged that Alden-Park had violated the Act through its negligent and abusive treatment of Majorie. The complaint specifically accused Alden-Park of failing to provide Majorie with adequate medical and personal care and was willful and want in its conscious and reckless disregard of her health and safety.
In its complaint, the plaintiffs reserved the right to seek punitive damages, which are damages awarded as punishment for the defendant’s willful and wanton behavior. And while the plaintiffs did not seek the damages in their original complaint, they did reserve the right to do so at a later date. However, the defendants brought a motion seeking to bar the plaintiffs from requesting punitive damages at any time. The motion was based on the general assumption because the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act does not specifically state whether or not punitive damages survive a person’s death, that they do not.
The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to deny punitive damages, a decision that was reinforced by the Illinois Appellate Court. In the final appeal available to the Vincents, the question to be answered by the Supreme Court was:
“Does a claim for punitive damages based on allegations of willful and wanton violation of the Nursing Home Care Act survive the death of a resident on whose behalf the cause of action was bought?”
In order to answer this question, the Illinois Supreme Court reviewed the history of punitive damage recovery and torts in general. In the past, a tort case would expire when either of the main parties to the tort died; the reason being that the deceased victim could no longer be appeased and the deceased wrongdoer could no longer be punished if they were dead. Over time, the law has evolved to the point that a lawsuit can still be filed whether or not the injured party is dead or alive, with the compensatory damages then going to the surviving family members.
However, in regards to punitive damages, the courts have generally held that the ability to recover punitive damages is only granted if the injured person is still living. In order for courts to grant an exception to this rule the statute on which the cause of action is based must specifically authorize the recovery of punitive damages.
Upon review of the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act the Supreme Court noted that it did not expressly authorize the recovery of punitive damages. Therefore, the surviving Vincent family members cannot recover punitive damages following Majorie’s death. Likewise, future cases in which surviving family members bring a claim against a nursing home under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act will be able to seek compensatory damages for any nursing home negligence, but not punitive damages.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois nursing home matters for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Streamwood, Forest Park, Wilmette, Vernon Hills, Harwood Heights, and Bensenville.
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Nursing Home Claim for Punitive Damages Upon Resident’s Death Denied by Illinois Courts – Vincent v. Alden-Park-Strathmoor, Inc.