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Publication: Operators of County Nursing Homes are Liable for Neglect

Publication

Operators of County Nursing Homes are Liable for Neglect

State and local governments are cloaked with broad immunity from private lawsuits. While many exceptions to state and local governmental immunity exist, they tend to be narrow and technical. Governmental immunity doesn’t protect only government agencies; it also often extends to government officials, employees, and volunteers. But where a County-owned nursing home is operated by a private corporation, the County’s governmental immunity does not protect the private corporation from suits for its negligence.

The family of an elderly woman who died after having suffered severe neglect in a county nursing home sued the private company that had contracted with the County to run the home. Noting that the private company’s contract with the County gave the private company control of the nursing home and required that the private company “ensure that the facility was properly staffed, equipped, trained and prepared to deliver care to the residents,” the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court agreed that the private corporation was an independent contractor and was not operating as part of the county government.

In fact, the private company was a for-profit company that operated nursing homes in several states. Refusing to extend governmental immunity to private individuals or corporations that contract to provide services for government entities, the court found that where a private corporation acts for profit and exercises independent management control, it is liable for its negligence.

Any private company considering a business venture of any kind with a governmental entity or agency must assume that it will not enjoy governmental immunity. Before anyone injured by a governmental activity assumes that immunity applies, he or she should more thoroughly review the actual identity of the parties involved: When independent contractors act on behalf of government, immunity sometimes disappears.