Horizon West Verdict

Horizon West Verdict: $28 Million Awarded in Landmark Elder Abuse Lawsuit

Judge described nursing home staff as ‘overworked, untrained, and uncaring’ after fatal lapses in care standards at California facility

When a nursing home worker tells a Superior Court judge that he would not place a relative under the care of his former employers, you know something has gone seriously wrong.

The ex-staffer’s testimony was a damning indictment of Colonial Healthcare, the company found guilty of putting corporate profits before patient well-being in the case of 79 year-old Frances Tanner, who died in 2005 from an infection caused by a bedsore. Nursing home abuse attorney Ed Dudensing urged jurors to ensure Colonial Healthcare and its parent company Horizon West took responsibility for the lapses in care that led to Tanner’s death.

In a landmark ruling, Judge Roland Candee awarded $28 million in punitive damages, citing ‘overwhelming… devastatingly powerful’ evidence of chronic understaffing, lax documentation practices, and corporate greed. The judge described staff at the Auburn facility as ‘overworked, untrained, and uncaring’ while praising the jury’s decision to ‘discourage future wrongful conduct’ with the scale of the recovery, adding that any attempt by Horizon West to contest the ruling would be ‘a travesty.’

Corporate greed enables elder abuse and neglect

Devastating testimony demonstrated that the nursing home company was guilty of illegally understaffing its facilities, resulting in inadequate care. Horizon West, which owns dozens of nursing homes across the country, was accused of a corporate culture in which the bottom line mattered more than patient care. The jury agreed, determining that the nursing home’s conduct was ‘malicious, oppressive, or fraudulent.’

The Tanner case was not the first time the facility fell afoul of regulations designed to protect Californians from elder abuse and neglect. Three previous cases cited the nursing home in the deaths of elderly residents.

“This is an organization that we have a lot of concerns about,” said Mr. Dudensing in a statement to the Sacramento Bee. “It’s a corporate culture that starts at the top, and trickles all the way down to the charge nurses and other employees.”

In order to show a clear link between the culture of greed and nursing home abuse, the jury heard evidence of the corporation’s finances – including a net worth of around $200 million – before settling on the $28 million figure.

According to Mr. Dudensing:

“They allocated 15% of the gross revenues of the corporate overseer to punitive damages. That’s how they came up with the figure. They wanted to send a message to the corporation.”

The Sacramento Bee reported this case to be the largest plaintiffs injury verdict in Sacramento history; this has since been exceeded by the $42.5 million Eskaton verdict. Colonial Healthcare has since been bought by Plum Healthcare, who’s CEO said there were to be no changes to staff after the takeover.

The recoveries that prompted the press coverage featured on these pages are a small sampling of the cases Mr. Dudensing has handled on behalf of victims of elder abuse and neglect. They generally represent larger than average recoveries, and in no way imply or guarantee that any prospective client will receive a similar recovery or, for that matter, prevail in litigation. We present them here only to demonstrate the types of cases Mr. Dudensing has taken on previously.