Can you get punitive damages against a nursing home?
The short answer is, yes.
Punitive Damages in California
Most damage awards are intended to compensate for a specific harm suffered by the victim. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for significant wrongdoing.
To obtain punitive damages in California, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant is guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice. Ca Civil Code § 3924(a).
Malice means conduct intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others. Ca. Civil Code § 3924(c)(1)
Oppression means despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights. Ca. Civil Code § 3924(c)(2)
Fraud means intentionally misrepresenting or concealing something important from another with the intent to deprive that person of property, legal rights, or otherwise cause them injury. Ca Civil Code § 3924(c)(3).
Standard of Proof for Punitive Damages
To obtain punitive damages you must prove the defendant engaged in malicious, oppressive, or fraudulent conduct by clear and convincing evidence. That means, something more than proving it is more likely than not.
Punitive Damages Against Nursing Home for Conduct of Employee
This is often the biggest hurdle to obtaining a punitive damage award against a nursing home. That is because often it’s the employee of the nursing home that acted badly.
Getting punitive damages against an employer for the conduct of an employee is possible. It happens often but it is complicated.
To obtain punitive damages against an employer for the conduct of their employee, a plaintiff must prove the following:
- The employer knew the employee was unfit prior to hiring them and employed him or her with a conscious disregard for the rights or safety of others.
- The employer authorized or approved the wrongful conduct for which the damages are awarded.
The employer was personally guilty of oppression, fraud or malice.
If the plaintiff can establish a punitive damage claim, there is no set limit on the amount of the award even in malpractice actions.