The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on nursing homes and the care they provide. A number of these facilities were hot spots of infection and although government edicts share a large part of the blame for the problems at nursing homes, many deaths at these facilities were sometimes suspect. Even prior to the outbreak there had been a number of instances of neglect and abuse at nursing homes that had come to light through the media and other sources.
Seniors who had been victims of these abuses had previously been severely limited by law as to how much they could be compensated for their cases. In 2020, the California State Supreme Court in Jarman v. HCR Manorcare interpreted existing law to mean that the maximum a victim can recover in damages from violations is $500, regardless of the number or severity of violations.
Local representative Eloise Reyes of San Bernardino recently sponsored legislation that has passed into law and been signed by Governor Newson. AB 849 corrects the decision of the California Supreme Court by clearly establishing that a victim of abuse in a skilled nursing facility may recover damages of $500 for each violation that has occurred.
According to a news release from Reyes office, “AB 849 ensures skilled nursing facilities are held accountable for violating the rights of seniors by allowing civil penalties on a per violation basis which is intended to deter potential violations and hold facilities accountable for how they treat their residents.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked on this important issue to protect our seniors in skilled nursing facilities and applaud Governor Newsom for his support and signature for this crucial issue,” said Assembly Majority Leader Reyes. “The decision to seek skilled nursing care for a loved one is one of the most stressful and important decisions that a family may have to make, making it important that the State of California takes every precaution and makes every effort to ensure accountability and justice in these circumstances.”
AB 849 will ensure that damages are proportionate to the severity of violations by requiring courts to take into account a consistent set of criteria when assessing damages.
“The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting our most vulnerable Californians, whether they live at home, or in skilled nursing facilities. Our office can’t do it alone – we rely on the public and our partners to bring forth actions that help keep everyone safe,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta, who is sponsoring the legislation. “As COVID-19 continues to impact nursing homes and intermediate care facilities throughout the state, it is more important than ever to pass legislation that will ensure the safety of our residents. AB 849 strengthens patients’ rights, and holds facilities accountable for harming our senior citizens and people with disabilities.”
“When it comes to protecting our elders in California’s nursing home industry, making sure they have access to quality care is imperative,” said Jacquie Serna, Deputy Legislative Director for the Consumer Attorneys of California. “AB 849, championed by Assembly Majority Leader Reyes, will protect access to justice for all nursing home residents by restoring facility liability for up to $500 damages per violation, instead of a flat $500, regardless of the number or severity of violations. The Governor’s support of this important legislation today protects our aging population by holding bad actors accountable and creating an incentive for nursing home operators to continue providing consistent, high-quality care.”
AB 849 will safeguard the rights of California seniors by ensuring penalties are assessed on a per violation basis, rather than $500 per action in total. This bill garnered bipartisan support throughout the legislative process and will take effect January 1, 2022.