Lack of Information in Jury Verdict Form’s Dooms Award of Court Costs and Attorneys’ Fees

A nursing home’s negligent handling of a patient’s feeding needs contributed to the man’s death and also led a jury to issue a monetary award to the family of the deceased patient. The family’s recovery was not as large as it might have been, however. The Louisiana Court of Appeals determined that the jury in the case never made an express finding that the facility violated the Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights, so the family was not entitled to recover their court costs and attorneys’ fees.

The appeal arose from a jury trial and verdict in the nursing home negligence death of Jesse Harvey, Sr. Harvey was a long-term resident at Acadian Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. During a brief hospital stay, doctors performed a test called a pharynogram, which showed the man had an inability to swallow. The doctors ordered that the man receive nutrition through a feeding tube and nothing by mouth.

Shortly after returning to the nursing home, Harvey pulled the feeding tube out. A nurse practitioner at the nursing home inquired as to whether the patient had received a pharynogram. Nursing home staff said he had not. Based on this, the nurse practitioner assumed that the feeding tube was the result of inadequate nutrition and ordered that the staff feed Harvey grits by mouth. Unable to swallow, the patient inhaled his grits and developed aspirational pneumonia. He died a few days later.

The family sued and won, with the jury assessing a damages award of $132,000. After this decision, the trial court issued a second judgment, awarding the family their attorneys’ fees and costs. Those fees and costs were awarded subject to the NHRBR.

On appeal, the nursing home successfully challenged the validity of the fees-and-costs award, pointing out that the jury never made a specific finding that the nursing home violated the NHRBR. The key item that led to the nursing home’s victory was the verdict form given to, and completed by, the jury. Although the two sides had battled with regard to a potential NHRBR claim, the verdict form made no mention of the law. The form only asked the jury to decide whether the nursing home breached the applicable standard of care and whether that misconduct led (at least in part) to the patient’s death. The jury answered yes to both of those questions and then assigned damages. They never answered whether or not the nursing home violated the NHRBR, since they were never asked. Without a definitive “yes” from the jury about a NHRBR violation, the family was not entitled to fees and costs.

In a nursing home negligence case, there are many minute details, any one of which can be the difference between success and failure. If you or a loved one has been injured by the staff at a nursing home, you should talk to experienced Louisiana injury counsel. The Louisiana personal injury attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm can provide your family with the clear advice and determined representation you need for success in your case.

For a confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More Blog Posts:

Nursing Home Patient’s Choking Death Case Must Go to Medical Malpractice Panel Before Going to Trial, Louisiana Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, Nov. 20, 2014

What Louisiana Residents Should Know About Nursing Home Abuses, Louisiana Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, July 16, 2013

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