Nursing Home Claim for Punitive Damages Upon Resident’s Death Denied by Illinois Courts – Vincent v. Alden-Park-Strathmoor, Inc.

The Illinois Appellate Court recently considered issues of punitive damages under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act in an ongoing Illinois nursing home abuse case, Vincent v. Alden-Park-Strathmoor, Inc., No. 2-09-065 (April 7, 2010). The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that punitive damages could be recovered in a survival action under the Nursing Home Care Act and remanded the case back to the trial court.
Vincent was brought on behalf of decedent Marjorie Vincent, alleging that defendant nursing home Alden-Park Strathmoor, Inc. caused personal injuries to decedent prior to her death while in defendant’s care. Under Count III of Plaintiff’s Complaint, the estate sought to reserve the right to seek punitive damages under a survival action in the Nursing Home Care Act for willful and wanton behavior.
Punitive damages are additional damages that can be awarded as a way to punish a defendant for willful and wanton behavior, among other things. Counts I, II and III of plaintiff’s complaint dealt with compensatory damages, which would reimburse the estate for actual loss or harm as a result of defendant’s actions.
The defendant nursing home won a motion to strike plaintiff’s punitive damages reservation from the complaint on the basis that punitive damages claims do not survive a resident’s death. In response the plaintiff filed an interlocutory appeal seeking to reinstate its right to claim punitive damages under a survivor action. However, the Appellate Court agreed with the lower court and held that punitive damages cannot be claimed under a survival action under the Nursing Home Care Act.

In considering the evidence brought by plaintiff to support its appeal in the Illinois nursing home abuse case, the Appellate Court stated that the majority of the plaintiff’s case law was irrelevant and unconvincing as it did not pertain to the issue of punitive damages. Instead, the Appellate Court looked to the Illinois Supreme Court case of Mattyasovszky v. West Towns Bus Co., 61 Ill.2d 31 (1975), which established that the Nursing Home Care Act does not allow punitive damages under a survivor claim.
The plaintiff attempted to use Mattyasovszky to show that there existed an equitable-consideration exception wherein if the defendant’s willful and wanton behavior was so grossly obvious that punitive damages could be claimed. However, the Appellate Court held that this condition was not established in Mattyasovszky, and furthermore that this exception only applied when there was no other remedy available. Therefore this condition would not apply to Vincent where there were three other counts of claims for compensatory damages.
The court further supported its opinion by stating that there is no statutory basis for any claims of punitive damages in the Nursing Home Care Act itself. Even though the Act does not explicitly deny a resident’s right to claim punitive damages it also does not explicitly authorize them. The court did not consider this as enough evidence to allow the estate to seek punitive damages. In addition, the court affirmed that punitive damages cannot be recovered under a survivor action; Mattyasovszky establishes that punitive damages do not survive the decedent’s death.
Therefore, in Vincent the lack of statutory provisions in the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act and there were no strong equitable considerations for allowing it, no punitive damages were allowed after the death of the resident.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois nursing home abuse lawsuits for over 30 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Skokie, Bolingbrook, Palos Heights, and Wheaton.
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