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Jury awards $14m in 2008 death

Closed nursing home is found negligent in care of patient

By the time Genevieve Calandro was rushed to the hospital after falling out of her wheelchair at a Danvers nursing home, doctors found a festering pressure sore on her back, acute appendicitis, a urinary tract infection so severe it had invaded her blood stream, kidney failure, uncontrolled diabetes, and severe dehydration.

Despite treatment, the infections prevailed, and the 90-year-old woman died a month later, in August 2008.

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Now a Middlesex County jury has decided that the care Calandro received at the nursing home, Radius HealthCare Center, was so grossly negligent, that this week it awarded Calandro’s family $14 million. It is the largest nursing home-related verdict in Massachusetts in at least the last decade, according to Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, which tracks jury awards.

Calandro’s youngest son, Garry Calandro, said Wednesday that no amount of money could compensate the family for his mother’s pain, suffering, and death, but he hoped the large amount would capture the attention of the nursing home industry.

“That is the only way to send a message, or to punish people, and somebody in that business certainly needs to look at it with a more serious manner than just as a big money-making business,” he said.

Most of the award, $12.5 million, was for punitive damages, with the jury indicating on Tuesday that the “gross negligence” was a “substantial contributing factor” in causing the woman’s death.

Lawyers said it was highly unusual for a jury in Massachusetts to award punitive damages in nursing home lawsuits.

Calandro said his mother was a happy woman who devoted her life to family and seldom complained, yet they could tell she was not feeling well in June 2008, and kept asking staffers at the nursing home about their concerns. They were repeatedly assured there was no problem.

“They were telling us that there was a virus going through the nursing home, that’s why she had a fever, and that everything was under control, that they were on top of everything,” he said.

Radius, and four related companies involved in managing and operating a chain of nursing homes in Massachusetts, has since gone out of business, a fact Middlesex Superior Court Judge Peter B. Krupp told the jury before it started deliberations on punitive damages.

Krupp instructed the jury that while punitive damages can be awarded for a company’s bad behavior, they can also be used to dissuade other nursing homes from similar conduct, according to lawyers involved in the case.

“The judge explained that the whole purpose of the punitive award is to send a message that you can’t get away with this anymore,” said Kris Sobczak, one of Calandro’s attorneys.

“Most people in this [nursing home] business are there because they really care about the patients,” Sobczak said. “But when you have short staffing, and no training, things fall through the cracks.”

Insurance companies, which pay the compensatory portion of a jury award — in this case, the part that deals with pain and suffering of the patient and loss of her companionship for the family — typically take the position that the death of an older person is not worth as much, said Elizabeth Mulvey, a Boston attorney who is not involved in the case, but who has represented families in other negligence suits against nursing homes.

The compensatory award in the Calandro case was $1.4 million, a small amount compared with the $12.5 million in punitive damages. Mulvey said the combined compensatory and punitive awards of $14 million in this case will likely send a warning to the nursing home industry.

“Old people have a value and need to be treated with dignity and care,” Mulvey said.

Lawrence Kenney, a Boston attorney who represented Radius, said the company admitted there was a “breach” in the standard of care Calandro received, but argued that it did not cause her death.

No staffers or officers from the company appeared at trial, he said, because the company has since closed.

Kenney, who has represented nursing homes in many other cases, said Radius will appeal the amount of the award and also the judge’s instructions to the jury about punitive damages being used to send a message to the nursing home industry.

Kay Lazar can be reached at Kay.Lazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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