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October 13, 2003 - Deal impacts outcome of nursing home death case

A Harrison county, W.Va., jury awarded $50 million in compensatory damages to the son of a nursing home patient, unaware that the parties had already struck a $5 million settlement midway through the trial.

Harrison County Circuit Judge Thomas A. Bedell ended the trial before the jury was to consider punitive damages because the agreed-upon ceiling had been exceeded. There will be no appeals.

According to plaintiffs' counsel Christopher J. Regan, the most critical factor influencing the plaintiff in entering into the high-low agreement and settling for $5 million was that the plaintiff could recover only a maximum of $1 million in compensatory damages under West Virginia law. "Five million would be $4 million more than what she could collect. This was definitely the right way to go," said Regan.

Plaintiff James Meredith filed the lawsuit last year after his 57-year-old mother died of complications from a gangrenous gallbladder in 1999. She had been admitted to Heartland of Clarksburg, a subsidiary of Manor Care Inc., to receive physical therapy for an inflammatory disorder of the brain and spinal cord, and heart complications. The suit alleged that the understaffed nursing home allowed Meredith's gallbladder attack to progress too far by the time doctors were called in to treat it. Manor Care operates more than 500 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, outpatient clinics and home-health care offices nationwide.

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