Lawsuit Involving Nurse Negligence & Failure to Adequately Screen Staff*

Case Summary:

This is a review of an incident involving nurse negligence and physical abuse. In this case it is alleged a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) assaulted an elderly male nursing home resident. The assault was so severe that the resident required hospitalization and the LVN would later be charged with a felony.

The family of the resident quickly found representation and filed suit against the nursing home claiming that the facility had failed to properly screen and monitor its staff.

Statement of Facts...

On March 3rd, 2011, 71-year-old Mark Galer voluntarily admitted himself to Bellarme Nursing Home. Bellarme was a "2nd Tier" facility which meant it was organized to handle residents who needed only very basic assistance with their day-to-day routines.

Since the home would handle relatively healthy seniors, state law only required that there be at least one Registered Nurse on staff. Most of the medical duties of the home were handled by Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN) and orderlies.

Shanna Willis was hired by Bellarme as a Licensed Vocational Nurse on November 12th, 2010. Her duties included: assisting those residents who had trouble moving, helping to bathe residents who required assistance, delivering and assisting residents with their meals, cleaning bedpans, and other like duties. Bellarme's customary procedure when hiring employees was to run a criminal background check and to check at least three references provided by the applicant.

Over the course of her employment, Willis was verbally reprimanded for "nurse negligence" on three separate occasions. Each time she was assessed to be "non-responsive to a guest's inquiries." By December 13th, 2010, Willis had received her second written reprimand.

The first written reprimand was for pushing a client in a wheelchair into a nearby wall. The patient wasn't seriously injured, and Willis said she "had slipped on a wet floor" causing her to inadvertently push the guest's wheelchair into the nearby wall.

The second written reprimand for nurse negligence was for striking a guest when the guest continued to openly complain about Willis's rudeness. Willis contended she didn't strike the man, but instead was trying to keep him from getting up and possibly injuring himself. She said as she was attempting to "settle the man down my hand may have accidently hit his face". In that case as well, the man was not injured.


On January 2nd, 2011, Galer underwent hip replacement surgery. He remained in the local hospital for three days under observation and was eventually released on January 10th when his family returned him to Bellarme. Galer was confined to his bed or his wheelchair. The LVNs helped him get into bed, and when he asked, they helped him to get out of bed and into his wheelchair.

On January 13th, Galer called out for an LVN to help him get from his bed to his wheelchair. His testimony would later contend he had to use the restroom and did not want to use the bedpan. He called out many times and received no response. That day Willis was assigned to take care of four residents. Galer was one of them.

Finally, and after Galer had been calling out for help for over five minutes Willis entered his room. According to other nurses who were with Willis just prior to her responding to Galer's cries for assistance, Willis was upset with having to break away from the television show she and some of the other LVNs regularly watched during the day.

Willis went into Galer's room and another LVN followed just behind her to check on another guest.

At that point Willis was heard to shout at Galer saying, "I'm tired of yo' ass." Immediately after making that statement, Willis picked up a telephone book and struck Galer in his face, breaking his nose. Galer made all efforts to fend off the attack, but Willis continued to strike him about his head and mouth with the telephone book and her hands. Galer began to scream loudly for help.

The LVN who followed Willis into the room had been tending to another guest when she heard Willis tell Galer she was "tired of [his] ass." As the second LVN turned to see what was happening, she saw Willis strike Galer in the face with the telephone book and then begin to beat him about his head and face with her hands.

The LVN immediately attempted to restrain Willis from further attacking Galer. Willis was 5'6" and weighed almost 200 pounds. The second LVN was 5'4" and weighed about 110 pounds. The commotion could be heard down the hall and was simultaneously registering on the hospital's surveillance system.

Within one to two minutes several administrators and LVNs ran into Galer's room. They were finally able to restrain Willis. She continued to curse and yell at Galer the entire time, even spitting on him as she was being pulled away.

Galer was slumped in his chair with blood spewing from his mouth and nose. One of the administrators grabbed her cell phone and called 911. Within minutes the police and paramedics arrived. Galer was stabilized and rushed to the local hospital. Willis was placed under arrest for the second degree felony offense of "Abuse of the Elderly." Subsequent to her arrest, Willis's bond was set at $10,000. Her family contacted a bail bond company and she was released later the same evening.

After being released, Willis went to her boyfriend's apartment. She asked him for some money because she said she had to "get out of town." Her boyfriend told her he had to go to his ATM to get the money and she should stay in his apartment and wait until he returned.

Instead of going to his ATM, the boyfriend called Willis's bail bond company. He told them she was about to flee the city. The bail bondsman called the police and Willis was rearrested a short time later. This time her bail was set at $100,000 cash.

The Lawsuit...

Galer's family retained a personal injury attorney who specialized in nursing home abuse. She filed suit against Bellarme and Willis citing nurse negligence, nursing home neglect, assault, breach of contract and negligence. Soon after filing suit, Galer's attorney took the deposition of each LVN who was on duty the day of the attack. She also subpoenaed the Chief Administrator of Bellarme as well as the administrator who called 911.

Galer's attorney also issued a subpoena "duces tecum" to Bellarme requesting Willis's personnel records and the video tape which recorded the attack on Bellarme's monitors.

During her deposition the Chief Administrator of Bellarme was asked if, prior to hiring Willis she checked any of Willis's references. The administrator said she had not. The attorney then asked the administrator if, prior to hiring Willis she ran a criminal background check. She said she did not.

The attorney for Galer then produced a copy of Willis's criminal record. The attorney asked the administrator if she could identify the mug shot attached to the record. She also asked her to look at the date of birth and address listed on the criminal record. She then asked her to read aloud the criminal charges and convictions listed on the record.

The administrator said there appeared to be three convictions for assault, with one a felony conviction for assault on an elderly person. Galer's attorney asked the Administrator if the person whose criminal record she was holding was one and the same as Willis. The Administrator meekly was heard to say, "it appears so."

Finally, the attorney played the video tape of the assault and asked the administrator if she could confirm that video tape was an accurate portrayal of the assault on Galer. The administrator agreed it was.


Three days after the deposition, the attorneys for Bellarme entered into a settlement agreement with Galer. The amount of the settlement was undisclosed.

Important Points...

  • Nursing home abuse and nurse negligence has become a prime area of concern for health regulators and lawmakers alike. Because of the low rates of pay available to employees of nursing homes, the potential for hiring people with criminal backgrounds is greater than in higher-tier medical facilities.

  • Lawsuits are often settled before trial. Many times the evidence adduced during depositions is sufficient to bring both parties to a meeting of the minds and resulting settlement.

*This case example is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.

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