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Horizon/CMS Healthcare Corp. v. Auld

    Brief Fact Summary. In a personal injury action, a jury awarded the estate $2.37 million in actual damages and $90 million in exemplary damages for injuries the patient, Martha Hary (Hary) had suffered due to the nursing home’s negligent medical care. The District Court for Tarrant County (Texas) reduced the judgment. Both Plaintiff and Defendant appealed the judgment.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Evidence of a defendant’s subjective knowledge of the peril his conduct creates is admissible to prove gross negligence. The damages caps (imposed by the Texas statute) are constitutional when applied to a statutory suit for wrongful death, but unconstitutional when applied to a common law suit for personal injury. When an appellant seeks reversal of a judgment based upon the admission or exclusion of evidence, the standard of review requires the court to examine the entire record to determine whether the whole case turned on the evidence that is complained about.

    Facts. In August, 1994, 76 year-old Hary became a resident of Defendant’s nursing home. Over the period of one year, Auld, the administratrix of Hary’s estate, (Plaintiff) established that Hary had suffered a series of medical conditions exacerbated by the nursing home’s failure to properly administer care. These included Stage IV pressure sores and contractures in all extremities, requiring painful medical treatment. In August, 1995, Hary was taken from the nursing home and transferred to a hospital where she required ten days of treatment.

    Issue. Was the nursing home liable for negligence?
    * Were the jury awards for damages proper?
    * Did the trial court err in permitting into evidence investigative reports from the Texas Department of Human Services?

    Held. The court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s judgment against Defendant for negligence. It held that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s findings for damages, and that there was no abuse of discretion in the admission of the report.

    Discussion. The overriding issue in Horizon was the awarding of damages more so than the factual determination of negligence. The Court of Appeals of Texas outlined the issue of damages generally: “[t]hose who suffer personal injury as a consequence of the negligence of another can recover two kinds of damages: first, damages for non-economic losses that go by the name of physical pain and mental suffering; second, economic losses, such as expenses and loss of earnings. Damages are lumped into three categories: (1) pain and suffering, (2) expenses, and (3) loss of earnings. They are of just as much importance with respect to settlements as they are with respect to claims that are pursued to a court judgment.” Additionally, with respect to separate (as opposed to actual) damages, the court explained, “[t]he purpose of exemplary or punitive damages is to protect society by punishing an offender, not to compensate the injured party. The distinction is illustrated by another dictionary’s definition of the term ‘compensatory damages’ as damages awarded to make good or compensate for an injury sustained, distinguished from punitive damag.


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