Estate of Nursing Home Resident Cannot Pursue Punitive Damages under the Nursing Home Act.

In an important ruling by the Illinois Appellate Court on April 7, 2010, the Court held that common law punitive damages are not available in a survival action brought under the Illinois Nursing Home Act.  The case is Vincent v. Alden-Park Strathmoor, Inc.

This case arose out of personal injuries Marjorie Vincent sustained while under the defendant’s care prior to her death.  Marjorie’s legal representative, Thomas Vincent, brought several claims against the defendant nursing home, through the Survival Act, for violating the Nursing Home Act (NHA), and sought common law punitive damages for defendant’s alleged willful and wanton conduct.   The Court was presented with the following question for review:

“Whether common-law punitive damages are available in an action brought by the personal representative of the estate of a decease nursing home resident based on the Survival Act for willful and wanton violations of the Nursing Home Care Act which caused injuries that ultimately claimed her life.”

In ruling against the Plaintiff, the Court held that there is no implicit or explicit authority for punitive damages under the NHA.  The Court also rejected the Plaintiff’s arguments that punitive damages should be recoverable based upon equitable considerations, namely that “the Act’s purpose to protect nursing home residents from abuse and neglect is effectively subverted if the availability of common-law punitive damages is cut off upon a resident’s death.”  The court disagreed and noted that “in addition to a plaintiff’s right to recover actual damages, attorneys fees, and costs pursuant to section 3-602, the NHA provides for a range both civil and criminal penalties for violations.   The Court went on to note that there is no reason, nor any precedent, that suggests punitive damages are necessary to enforce the statutory scheme and to deter wrongdoers.

Attorney Danya Shakfeh contributed to this post.  View her blog at