Nursing Home, Even Though an LLC, is Criminally Liable for Its Employees Failure to Provide Required Care to Patient

Highgate LTC Management, LLC, a limited liability company, operated Northwoods Rehabilitation and Extended Care Facility (Northwoods) in Cortland County. Following a 2005 investigation into the care of a patient at Northwoods who was in a persistent vegetative condition, five of its employees were convicted of various crimes relating to their failure to provide required care to that patient, despite stating in facility records that such care had been provided.

The operator of the nursing home was subsequently charged in an indictment with six counts of willful violation of health laws and three counts of falsifying business records in the second degree, arising out of its employees’ treatment of the patient. Following a jury trial, Northwoods was convicted as charged, sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge prohibiting it from operating nursing homes in New York, and fined $15,000. Northwoods appealed, and the Appellate Division, Third Department affirmed in People v. Highgate LTC Management, LLC, — N.Y.S.2d —-, 2009 WL 3380029 (3 Dept. 2009).

Defendant Northwoods did not dispute that its employees were acting within the scope of their employment and on its behalf, or that it was aware of chronic understaffing resulting in deficiencies in care. Nor did it dispute that it may be convicted of a crime. Nevertheless, defendant maintains that, as a limited liability company, the doctrine of respondeat superior is not applicable when, as herein, intent is an element of the charged crimes.

The court, however, rejected defendant’s argument that a limited liability company cannot be held criminally liable for the acts of its employees committed within the scope of their employment. Northwoods conceded thatPenal Law 20.20(2) essentially renders that doctrine applicable to corporations for certain intentional crimes, but it maintained that inasmuch as the statute deviates from common law it must be strictly construed such that the rule contained therein cannot apply to limited liability companies, as unincorporated associations. Nonetheless, the court cited cases wherein it was held that an unincorporated association may be convicted of an intentional crime committed by its employees or agents, under certain circumstances. The court leaned heavily on the important public interest at issue and the regulatory nature of the crimes committed by defendant’s employees.

The court stated: like a hospital, [t]he operation of a [nursing home] is so intertwined with the public interest as to legally justify the imposition of extensive controls by all levels of government. To the court, there is no rational basis to exempt defendant from criminal liability under these circumstances, when a corporate nursing home operator would be held accountable. Interestingly, the court held that patient complaints contained in statements of deficiency prepared by the Department of Health were properly admitted into evidence. The court explained that these documents were offered not for the truth of the patient complaints, but to show that defendant had notice that its employees were consistently failing to provide required care.

As such, they did not constitute hearsay. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas. To learn more, contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help, or watch our videos.

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