Nursing home resident Joseph Gamma died after falling off his bed at the facility. His estate sued the nursing home. One of the claims the estate asserted was that the nursing home had violated the New Jersey Nursing Home Responsibilities and Residents’ Right Act (“the Nursing Home Act”). At the conclusion of the trial, the trial judge granted a directed verdict in favor of the nursing home on the estate’s claims under the Act.

Mr. Gamma’s estate appealed, claiming multiple errors at the trial level. Although the Appellate Division ultimately reversed and remanded the case on other grounds, the appeals court affirmed the judge’s directed verdict on the claims under the Nursing Home Act.

The trial court had directed the verdict against the decedent’s estate under the Nursing Home Act after finding that the estate could not maintain its action based on the evidence presented (unfortunately, details of those claims were not included in the appellate court’s opinion). On appeal, the estate argued that any violation of law by a nursing home would automatically constitute a violation of the Act. The Appellate Division disagreed.

As the appeals court explained, the Act includes “rights” given to patients, as well as “responsibilities” imposed on nursing homes. Among the nursing home’s responsibilities is “to ensure compliance with all applicable State and federal statutes and rules and regulations.” The Act includes language that “a person shall have a cause of action against the nursing home for any violation of this act.” Nevertheless, the Appellate Division ruled that this language does not give a resident “the unbridled right to bring a cause of action against the nursing home.” Instead, a resident may only bring a cause of action against the nursing home for a violation of one of the enumerated residents’ “rights,” rather than to enforce the nursing home’s “responsibilities.” Although the Appellate Division’s opinion does not specify what violations of the Act had been alleged by the family, it concluded that “the Act simply does not provide the avenue for relief requested” by the family.

A copy of The Estate of Gamma v. Cedar Hill Health Care Center can be found here – The Estate of Gamma v. Cedar Hill Health Care Center

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