Firm News

First District Appellate Court Awards New Trial on Loss of Society Damages
03/1/2012
First District Appellate Court Awards New Trial on Loss of Society Damages and Upholds Trial Court’s Ruling Awarding Only a Portion of Attorneys’ Fees Claimed by Plaintiff under the Nursing Home Care Act
February 29, 2012
In Watson v. South Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 2012 IL App (1st) 103730, the First District Appellate Court held that (1) the plaintiff was entitled to a new trial on the issue of damages for loss of society because the jury ignored a proven element of damages, and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that $568,187 in attorneys’ fees was unreasonable under the Nursing Home Care Act.
This case involved a survival and wrongful death action, as well as a claim for attorneys’ fees pursuant to the Nursing Home Care Act. It arose out of the death of William Sloan, a patient at a nursing home operated by South Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (“South Shore”). While Mr. Sloan was unsupervised inside the facility, he attempted to smoke a cigarette and caught on fire, which caused an infection that led to his death two years later. Following trial, the jury awarded $1.6 million for Mr. Sloan’s medical expenses, pain and suffering, disfigurement, and loss of normal life. However, the jury awarded no damages for loss of society claimed by Mr. Sloan’s daughters. The plaintiff then sought $568,000 in attorneys’ fees pursuant to the Nursing Home Care Act. Based on both parties’ fee summaries, though, the trial court only granted $322,110. Plaintiff appealed the jury’s verdict awarding no loss of society damages and the trial court’s reduction of attorneys’ fees.
The appellate court noted that the undisputed testimony in this case showed that Mr. Sloan’s daughters enjoyed his love, companionship, and affection during his life, and that the jury improperly disregarded the manifest weight of the evidence. The testimony presented at trial supported loss of society damages; therefore, the court awarded the plaintiff a new trial on that issue.
The second issue facing the appellate court involved the award of attorneys’ fees pursuant to the Nursing Home Care Act. Plaintiff presented a fee summary to the court, but South Shore presented an extensive list of billings contained in plaintiff's summary that it claimed were unnecessary, including the rates charged by plaintiff’s attorneys. After reviewing both parties’ fee summaries and South Shore’s objections, the trial court awarded only a portion of what the plaintiff sought. On appeal, the court noted that what is considered excessive is “a matter of opinion.” Therefore, since the trial court arrived at its decision after reviewing a number of factors, the appellate court held that the reduction of plaintiff’s claimed attorneys fees was not so unreasonable as to constitute an abuse of discretion.
Please contact Rusty O’Kane at Rusty.OKane@ARandPartners.com if you wish to obtain a copy of the Appellate Court’s decision in Watson v. South Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
            The preceding article is for information and discussion only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice.