Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Avoiding punishment

Legal filings show hospital’s efforts to
avoid punitive damages in burn case

By David Baker
Posted June 2, 2015
438 words

Today there is more evidence of Albany Memorial Hospital’s desperate efforts to avoid a claim for putitive damages – even after two nurses had admitted under oath that they failed to report that a patient had been burned when an ice pack containing hot water had been place under him, and that for three weeks nursing staff had lied to the patient’s family about what had happened, telling them he had a bedsore.

The lawsuit – Leonard Guyette and Rita Guyette vs. Albany Memorial Hospital and Northeast Health – was first described here back in June 2014.  The story contained extracts from the deposition transcripts of the two nurses.

A link to that story is below.

Those admissions prompted the Guyettes’ lawyer to ask the court for permission to file an amended complaint, adding a claim for putitive damages.  Memorial Hospital objected, saying that because the claim for putitive damages wasn’t made earlier in written responses to questions, they would not be able to defend the claim.

The judge, Michael C. Lynch, disagreed.

“The Court rejects defendants’ arguments,” he wrote in a decision and order.  “A review of the several deposition transcripts included in the record before the Court indicates that delay in informing plaintiffs and their family of the burn to plaintiff was discussed at length at these examinations before trial.”

Quoting an appellate court decision, Lynch wrote: “In addition, ‘punitive damages are permitted when the defendant’s wrongdoing is not simply intentional but evidences a high degree of moral turpitude and demonstrates such wanton dishonesty as to imply a criminal indifference to civil obligations.’  Thus the Court grants plaintiffs’ motion for leave to amend their complaint to add a demand for putitive damages.”

But Memorial’s lawyers weren’t done trying to stop the new claim. They immediately filed another motion, this one asking the judge to dismiss the demand.  This time Lynch didn’t even explain his decision.  “This Court reiterates that the pleadings validate the inclusion of the putitive damages demand,” he wrote.  “Accordingly, the defendants’ motion is DENIED.”

That decision was dated April 21, 2008.  Three days later, the case was settled.

The records in Guyettes’ lawsuit are extensive but they don’t indicate how much was paid to settle it.  However, putitive damages are just that; meant to punish a defendant and deter it and others from similar conduct rather than compensate the victim. As such they are usually much higher than the amount paid in ordinary damages.

Also, because they are a punishment, it’s unlikely that putitive damages would be covered by insurance. In the Guyette case, Northeast Health probably had to pay that part of the settlement itself.


The first story on the Guyette case is HERE