Committee Approves Caps on Punitive Damages Against Care Facilities 

(HARRISBURG) – The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee has approved legislation that would place caps on punitive damages against personal care facilities, according to Committee Chairman Senator Don White (R-41).

Senator White explained that Senate Bill 747, was amended and passed by the Committee on Tuesday.  The bill was introduced by Senator Elder Vogel and would require the state insurance Commissioner to investigate the awarding of punitive damages in cases brought within the health care industry over the past 10 years.

At the Committee meeting, Senator Joe Scarnati (R-25) offered an amendment to the legislation to add the capping of punitive damages in cases against personal care homes, assisted living communities, long-term care nursing facilities and their employees and officials at 200 percent of the compensatory damages awarded in a lawsuit. This provision would be consistent with the cap currently placed on punitive damages awarded against physicians.

Senator Scarnati explained that his amendment was sparked by the actions of a Florida-based law firm which placed ads in newspapers, targeting Pennsylvania care facilities.  The Pennsylvania Health Care Association has tracked 33 full-page advertisements attacking over 40 nursing facilities just since the beginning of 2015.

Senator Scarnati noted that resulting lawsuits from these ads drained more than $91 million from the state in 2013, money that could be better utilized for patient care.

“This process does not help Pennsylvania residents who are in nursing home facilities today,” Senator Scarnati stated.  “Unfortunately, it only serves to scare families and put our state Medicaid monies into the pockets of out-of-state law firms, while doing nothing to help strengthen nursing homes and the care that they provide.”

Senator White said he personally experienced a case involving members of his immediate family in which an individual trolled the halls of a personal care facility soliciting cases of perceived negligence or malfeasance.

“It has impacted our ability to take care of our patients in a very negative way,” Senator White said of lawyers that file tort cases against care facilities. “They’re out there looking for problems, not solving problems.”

Senator Gene Yaw (R-23) said the current climate does nothing to discourage the filing of tort claims, no matter how frivolous, against the facilities.

“If you happen to be the operator of a facility like this and you face unlimited amounts of punitive damages, the risk is so great that you will settle cases that you normally would not settle because the risk is so high. All we are doing is lowing that risk level to the same playing field as doctors are. If a person has a good case, they are still going to pursue it,” Senator Yaw said.

The committee also approved Senate Bill 861, a measure introduced by Senator White that clarifies liability issues in cases involving auto dealership loaner vehicles, and recommended Senate confirmation of Teresa Miller to serve as state Insurance Commissioner.

Senate Bills 747 and 861 now go to the full Senate for consideration.


Joe Pittman
(717) 787-8724

Click here for video of Senator White’s comments.

Click here for video of Senator Scarnati’s comments.

Click here for video of Senator Yaw’s comments.

Click here for video of the complete Banking and Insurance Committee meeting.