Articles Posted in Nursing Home Negligence

Floods_Kentucky_Medical_RecordsNursing home staffs have a duty to care for their vulnerable patients, and cases of negligence are a breach of that duty. Families who find themselves in this position must move swiftly because the law imposes strict deadlines for action. The law may, however, delay these deadlines if the patient’s family neither knew nor should have known about the misconduct, which was a key factor in a patient’s family’s recent victory before the Louisiana Court of Appeal.

Delvin Hume’s family placed him in the Ferncrest Manor Living Center in 2009 for a one-month stay while his wife underwent and recovered from eye surgery. Within less than a week, the patient allegedly fell from his bed and missed his diabetes medication because the nursing home staff erroneously refused to administer it.

Hume’s wife removed her husband from the facility and brought him home. When the man visited an emergency room shortly thereafter, doctors found he had a nodule on one of his lungs and stomach cancer. However, when the man died two weeks after his original admission to the nursing home, the listed causes of death were kidney failure and heart disease.

When you’ve been injured by the negligent actions, or inaction, of others, you likely have a lot of things on your mind. If your injuries are the result of negligence committed by a health care provider, it is very important to understand exactly what requirements the law imposes on you in order to sue that provider. In some cases, you may have to appear before a review panel before you can sue in court. Failing to follow this step can lead to the dismissal of your case, as happened to one Lafayette-area woman, whose unfavorable ruling was recently affirmed by the Louisiana Court of Appeal.

In this recent case, Veronica Thomas, a woman confined to a wheelchair, was being transported from a hospital to a nursing home in Lafayette. An employee of the nursing home drove the van that carried the patient. According to Thomas, she was injured during that trip when she fell backwards.

Thomas sued the company that owned the nursing home, Nexion Health at Lafayette, Inc., arguing that the nursing home employee operated the van recklessly and unsafely because the employee did not use a motor vehicle restraint to secure her inside the van. The nursing home asked the trial court to dismiss the patient’s case, and the trial court granted the request. The appeals court later upheld this ruling as proper.

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.

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In Louisiana, all medical malpractice cases must first go before a medical review panel before proceeding to court. Despite arguments to the contrary by a nursing home patient’s family, a case involving the choking death of a patient was one of medical malpractice and not just simple negligence. The Louisiana Court of Appeal ruled that the case would require medical expert evidence in order to resolve it, so the matter was not one of simple negligence and would need to go before the panel before proceeding to trial.

The case pertained to the choking death of Jerry Don Campbell, who was a patient at Claiborne Healthcare Center after having suffered a stroke. In addition to the stroke, the patient had dementia and difficulty swallowing. On one day in June last year, Campbell retrieved a peanut butter sandwich from a sandwich cart and sat down to eat it. Some time later, nurses found him unresponsive. The staff transferred him to a local hospital, but he did not survive.

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Nursing homes are tasked with a great responsibility: the care and treatment of those who can least care for themselves, usually the disabled or the elderly. While most facilities undertake this task with the utmost care, some fall short of providing even a basic level of care. That is what two juries, one in Florida and one in West Virginia, concluded as they handed down massive damages awards against nursing homes whose negligent care hastened the deaths of a pair of patients.

In Charleston, West Virginia, Dorothy Douglas stayed at the Heartland of Charleston nursing home for three weeks in 2009. By the time Douglas’s son moved her to another nursing home, she had lost 15 pounds and was near death from dehydration. She passed away shortly thereafter.

Lawyers for Douglas’s son argued at trial that the facility prioritized maximizing patient numbers while minimizing the number of staff, which led to the negligent level of care that ultimately killed Dorothy. A Kanawha County jury agreed, and handed down a $91.5 million judgment. Of that amount, $80 million constituted punitive damages. Earlier this year, a Kanawha County judge rejected the nursing home’s request for a new trial.

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It is common for nursing homes to take steps to shield themselves from litigation involving the care of their residents. There are currently heated arguments concerning the courts’ willingness to honor “arbitration clauses” in residents’ contracts. “Arbitration clauses” are often included in the living agreements signed when someone becomes a resident of a nursing home. They basically state that claims against the home will not be solved through the courts, but will instead be handled by an outside, professional arbitrator that the nursing home hires. The US Supreme Court recently decided not to hear an appeal concerning an elder abuse case wherein a lower court ordered a home to pay damages to the residents, despite the fact that the resident signed a contract with an “arbitration clause”.

While “arbitration clauses” are generally taken into consideration, they can be treated with suspicion, due to the fact that an arbitrator may be biased towards the institution (in this case, the nursing home) that hires him and may want to hire him again in the future. In Beverly Enterprises, Inc. vs. Ping, there may have been negligence so severe that it resulted in a resident’s death. The resident’s estate would potentially have the right to file a “wrongful death” suit against the nursing home, citing egregious actions or abuse that led to the patient’s death

Another case the US Supreme Court chose not to review, concerning the wrongful death of a patient, ended in a lower court ruling against the Illinois nursing home it was brought against. Though an “arbitration clause” stated that controversies meeting or exceeding $200,000 would be settled in arbitration, not the courts, the clause was signed by the daughter of the deceased, as a representative of the deceased. She did not represent the deceased’s entire family, who the Illinois Supreme Court ruled had a valid claim in the wrongful death suit.

According to the National Center of Health Statistics there are over 1.5 million people in nursing homes in the United States. The estimate of understaffed nursing homes is approximately 90% according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There are over 20,000 complaints of abuse, gross neglect and exploitation.

In September 2011, a man was admitted to a local nursing home and was experiencing medical conditions that were potentially life threatening. The nursing home held itself out as a properly staffed, skilled, qualified nursing home and a Medicare/Medicaid Provider.

Then the family’s nightmare began.