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Expansion of malpractice award caps debated

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A public hearing Monday on legislation to limit medical liability suits against nursing homes, pharmacies and other health-care providers contrasted horrific accounts of maltreatment with detached legal arguments for limiting malpractice lawsuits.

Butch Christy told members of the House Judiciary Committee how his father died of diabetic shock in a nursing home when an overworked, undertrained midnight shift aide tried to treat him with chocolate milk filled with packets of sugar, and then left him unattended for four hours.

“My father was killed because a company 100 miles away was trying to save money on staffing,” he said.

Likewise, attorney Amy Quezon told of a client, a World War II veteran, who developed pressure sores that went to the bone because of inadequate care he received in a nursing home.

“He said, ‘I know they don’t have time to give me the care I need, but the worst part is smelling my own flesh rot,’” she said, adding, “What he’s lost is the right to live out his last days with dignity.”

The legislation (SB 6), which passed the Senate 31-1 on Feb. 2, would expand a 2003 law that set limits on malpractice suits against physicians, including setting monetary caps on compensatory damages, to also include nursing homes, pharmacies and a number of health-care professionals including physician’s assistants and advanced practice nurses.

Larry Pack, with Stonerise Health Care, which operates seven nursing and rehabilitation facilities in West Virginia, said health-care facilities are experiencing a liability insurance crisis similar to what doctors in the state faced in the late 1990s and early 2000s…

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