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The nursing home industry is back at the legislature this session demanding a law to cap its liability in Tennessee courts for neglecting and abusing residents. That's even though a legislative study committee, which met once after last year's bill failed, decided more time is needed to write balanced legislation. One lawmaker last year dubbed the bill the "Kill Old People Cheap" Act. If anything, this new version is even more audacious.
Residents and their families could win no more than $300,000 in any lawsuit for so-called non-economic damages--intangible harm such as pain, emotional distress, disfigurement or loss of a loved one. In addition to capping those damages, the bill would place health services provided by nursing homes under the same rules as medical malpractice cases, making it harder and costlier for residents to prove negligence. All that was in last session's bill.
What's new is this devious provision: Should a jury actually award punitive damages against one of our state's wretched nursing homes, half the cash would be snatched right out of the patient's hands and placed into a state fund. Where would that money go? Back to the nursing home industry, of course.
The prime force behind the legislation is National Healthcare Corp., which owned the Nashville nursing home where 16 residents died in a fire five years ago. Fighting the bill is Tennessee Citizen Action--a coalition of trial lawyers, advocates for the disabled and labor unions. They say the bill shields homes from responsibility for bad care. The group's executive director, Tom Peters, says:
"This bill is one of the most outrageous and extreme examples of corporate greed and political over-reaching that we have ever seen. It provides near-complete immunity when homes abuse or neglect residents and does nothing to improve care.
"The quality of care in many Tennessee nursing homes is shameful; there is no other way to characterize it. This bill would ensure that care only gets worse as it completely protects homes when they cause direct harm to the elderly. Several of the legislators who have signed their name to this bill are strong right-to-life advocates, but nothing in this bill will protect the sanctity of life for our nursing home residents. Tennessee Citizen Action stands strongly opposed to this deceptive and purposefully misleading legislation."
Here are the bill's sponsors (as you will note, even a couple of Democrats are whoring down for the nursing home industry): Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), Rep. John Lundberg (R-Bristol), Rep. Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads), Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah), Rep. Bill Harmon (D-Dunlap), Rep. Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis), Rep. Jason Mumpower (R-Bristol), Rep. Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma), Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas).