Is Nursing Home Neglect a Breach of Fiduciary Duty?

Nursing home lawyer

If your loved one is a resident in a nursing home, you place your trust, confidence, and reliance on the nursing home to act in the best interest on behalf of the patient. But does that mean the nursing home has a fiduciary responsibility for the resident? A nursing home abuse lawyer in Philadelphia, PA can explain this more.

A December 2021 nursing home neglect case gained attention in Pennsylvania as PA nursing home lawyers sought court support that a HCR Manor Care facility violated a standard preventing public harm and opened the door for a negligence claim.

In Stetts v. Manor Care of Williamsport PA (North) LLC, the plaintiff represented the estate of a deceased resident. The resident had suffered injuries while residing at the nursing home. The plaintiff pursued a lawsuit claiming that the facility, its employees, and its corporate defendants breached a fiduciary duty of care.

Plaintiff alleged four counts in the complaint, including:

1) breach of the standard of care (this count broadly included negligence, vicarious liability, corporate negligence and negligence per se)

2) breach of fiduciary duty against Manor Care,

3) aiding and abetting the breach of fiduciary duty against Manor Care’s corporate defendants, and

4) a survival claim against all defendants.

The Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims.

Of particular interest is the Court’s ruling on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims against the facility.

The defendants sought judgment on Count II which alleged: “the Facility… was a fiduciary of [Mr. Stetts]”; “[t]he Facility breached and violated their relationship of trust, special confidence, and their fiduciary obligations and duties owed to [Mr. Stetts]”; “the Facility acted in bad faith and used their position of trust and special confidence to [Mr. Stetts’s] detriment and to their own advantage”; and “[t]he conduct of the Facility was intentional, outrageous, willful and wanton and exhibited a reckless indifference to its fiduciary duties as it related to [Mr. Stetts].”

The plaintiff sought punitive damages on this claim.

Defendants argued that a fiduciary relationship does not arise merely because one party relies on the specialized skill or expertise of the other party. It further alleged that Plaintiff did not offer expert opinion on the question of whether a fiduciary duty existed between the facility and Mr. Stetts.

In denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment this issue, the court relied on Zaborowski v. Hospitality Care Ctr of Hermitage Inc., quoting in its opinion that:

although a fiduciary relationship generally arises in a financial context, “the relationship between a nursing home and its residents can be fiduciary in nature,” because [M]any if not most nursing home residents are in a vulnerable physical and/or mental state. Placing a loved one in such a facility necessarily entails trust on the part of the family as well as the resident.

The court agreed that the plaintiff had properly plead and supported a claim against the nursing for breach of fiduciary. This plaintiff had alleged that the nursing home held an authoritarian and domineering position in the resident’s health and well-being. The court found that expert testimony on fiduciary relationship was not needed to bring this claim. The Court allowed the plaintiff to continue with the claim for punitive damages against HCR Manor Care.

Then the court also addressed the role that the nursing home’s corporate partners played in this relationship. The court found that the record was devoid as to whether HCR Manor Care’s training policies, facility budget, and staffing levels were approved by the corporate defendants. Ultimately, the court dismissed claims against the corporate defendants noting that evidence of substantial assistance or encouragement from the corporate defendants in effecting breach of fiduciary duty was lacking. The full opinion can be found here.

If your loved one has suffered elder abuse or neglect while in a Pennsylvania nursing home, you may be able to file a personal injury claim with the legal help of a nursing home lawyer in Philadelphia, PA. The PA nursing home law firm Wieand Law Firm, LLC are elder care advocates and work tireless to support nursing home residents and their families. Call 267-666-7777 for a free consultation to see how we may be able to help.

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