What the landmark Skilled Healthcare Group verdict could mean for others

I guess there’s probably a lot a screaming and yelling going on at the Skilled Healthcare Group headquarters in California. Perhaps the anger derives from the miserable looking financial chart for the company showing a whopping 75% decline in price per share in one day!

Another portion of the company’s anger is probably being misdirected at the lawyers who defended the company in a class action lawsuit brought against Skilled Healthcare Group based on systematic under-staffing at 22 nursing homes owned by the corporate giant. Really, the only people to blame are the managers in the company who intentionally chose to limit that staffing at their facilities.

After hearing months of evidence regarding staffing levels at the nursing homes operated by Skilled Healthcare Group, the jury awarded the maximum amount permissible under the California Health and Safety Code—a whopping $671 million to the members of the class.

The massive jury award is hardly an arbitrary number. Rather, the compensatory damages were awarded based on a statutory violation of $500 per-patient per-day at the 22 subject facilities for not providing the state minimum staffing of 3.2 hours for each patient living at the nursing homes on a daily basis.

In addition to the compensatory damages, the lawsuit also seeks punitive damages against Skilled Healthcare Group. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer for their acts. The punitive aspect of the lawsuit will move forward in the coming weeks. I’m sure that it will take some time before any of the plaintiffs involved in this case receive any portion of the recovery.

This verdict will likely force nursing home operators to re-evaluate the way they operate and the decisions they make with respect to staffing levels at their facilities. Sadly, when facilities are short staffed, nursing home residents suffer. I have seen that under-staffing in nursing homes continually contributes to incidents of nursing home abuse and neglect.

Dare I say that this verdict may improve the quality of life of residents—not only those at Skilled Healthcare Group facilities, but for others who suffer the effects of systematic under-staffing at other facilities across the country?

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a lawyer who represents people injured in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Jonathan has represented victims of nursing home abuse and neglect throughout Illinois and across the country. Visit his personal blog at


and his Web site



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