A Massachusetts Federal District Court recently refused to dismiss a consumer protection claim brought by the family of a deceased nursing home resident. The decision in Libby v. Brookline Health Care Center demonstrates the potential availability to plaintiffs of triple damages for claims brought under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute, G.L. c. 93A (Chapter 93A).
The plaintiff, the Estate of Sarah Libby, brought a lawsuit against Brookline Health Care Center (BHCC) alleging that Ms. Libby choked to death after being left unsupervised to eat in the BHCC facility. The Estate claimed that Ms. Libby, who was an at-risk patient, was often left alone and unsupervised. In addition to the choking incident, she also fell on four occasions while unsupervised. The Estate sued BHCC for wrongful death and negligence.
What makes the Libby case unique is that the Estate also brought suit under Chapter 93A, which, among other things, exposes a defendant to liability for triple damages. BHCC moved to dismiss this claim on the well-established theory that negligence alone cannot support a Chapter 93A claim. The Estate opposed this motion, arguing that in a 2004 case, Darviris v. Petros, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that medical facilities were exposed to Chapter 93A liability for the “entrepreneurial and business aspects of providing medical services, for example, advertising and billing.” The court agreed, finding that the Estate’s allegations that understaffing at BHCC which caused Ms. Libby’s death was motivated by business reasons could support a claim under Chapter 93A. The Court also agreed that allegations that BHCC misrepresented the quality of its services could constitute a violation of Chapter 93A.
Although the decision in Libby was on a motion to dismiss, and the Estate must still prove its claims in order to recover against the defendant, this is a potentially powerful decision for plaintiffs in future nursing home malpractice claims.
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