Irregularities in Skilled Healthcare Trial

Last month I wrote about the California healthcare case involving Skilled Healthcare LLC. The Nursing Home company was accused by trial lawyers of violating California’s regulations governing how many staff members per resident that is required to operate a healthcare facility and lost its case.

What struck me is that this case seemed to have been brought to court by trial lawyers and without actual victims or injury and, worse, the $671 million award could bankrupt the company putting thousands of elderly patients out on the street and eliminating hundreds of jobs.

Now there is an update on this case that takes it to a whole new level of craziness. Aside from the absurdity of the case in the first place, now it seems that there were all sorts of irregularities with the jury and the judge during the case.

Today the company has issued a statement through a press release. “Skilled Healthcare strongly disagrees with the jury verdict. The facilities are appropriately staffed and thoroughly regulated. The facilities recently learned that serious and prejudicial juror misconduct occurred in this case that could explain the annihilating jury verdict. Defendants are filing a motion to bring this serious matter before the court and uphold the state and federal constitutions’ fundamental requirement of a trial before an impartial jury.”

Skilled Healthcare has filed a claim this week that alleges that one of the jurors submitted a questionnaire that was riddled with falsehoods and outright perjury. The company claims that this juror could have prejudiced the jury during its deliberations and that this should vacate the verdict. (.pdf of filing)

It appears that this juror hid the fact that she had a pretrial familiarity with one of Skilled Healthcare’s facilities as well as a one of the plaintiffs, a situation that destroyed her ability to be impartial. If this is true, this juror could easily have swayed other jurors to his prejudiced point of view affecting the legitimacy of the verdict. After all, juries are supposed to be entirely free of bias one way or the other.

Additionally, because of the national attention that this story has raised, two of the jurors have asked the courts to keep their names secret. They’ve become alarmed by the attention that their participation on the jury has caused and they don’t want any part of the news coverage.

Finally, the company was alarmed to find out that the judge in the case had been in communication with the prosecution’s lawyer during the trial. Skilled Healthcare alleges that this “ex parte communication” also makes the judge’s decision problematic. Superior Court Judge Bruce Watson denies these charges (.pdf of document).

So, not only did we have a case brought to court with no injuries claimed resulting in a gigantic, destructive award leveled against this company, now we find that the jury was tainted the whole time and the judge was palling around with the prosecution’s lawyer.

Can this thing get any worse?