Nursing Home Negligence Lawsuit Alleging Inadequate Care*



Summary:

This is a review of a nursing home negligence lawsuit in which an elderly female patient was alleged to have been denied the medications prescribed by her physician. The lawsuit claimed that at the time of her admittance to the nursing home the woman had a legitimate prescription for two painkillers and that employees of the nursing home stole the medication for their own personal use.

As the result of the abrupt denial of medication, the woman not only endured excessive pain from a previous injury, but also life-threatening side effects from withdrawal. The lawsuit further contended that the facility's inability or unwillingness to properly monitor its staff and its patients amounted to nursing home negligence.

Statement of Facts...

Up until her fall, Dorothy Palmer had been able to live by herself in a small two bedroom home. She had lived in this house for the past three years, ever since the passing of her husband John Palmer. Although under a doctor's care for diminishing sight, Dorothy was otherwise in remarkably good health.

On January 1st, 2011, at about 2:30 in the afternoon, Dorothy was returning from her daily constitutional around her block. She knew most of the people who lived near her and felt comfortable and safe around them.

As she climbed the three brick steps up to her front door she slipped and fell. Luckily, a neighbor saw her fall and rushed to her aid. Dorothy said she was in severe pain and needed to go to the hospital. Another neighbor ran over to help while calling 911. Fire and Rescue responded within minutes. Dorothy was stabilized and transported by ambulance to Amesworth Memorial Hospital.

Once in the emergency room Dorothy was sedated and administered Stadol for her pain. The on-call emergency physician ordered an MRI examination and a CAT scan.

The results of the examinations indicated Dorothy suffered a fractured left clavicle. Dorothy remained in the hospital for 48 hours. After being cleared by the attending physician, Dorothy was released into her son Jonathan's care. Jonathan had previously made arrangements for his mother to be admitted to Sunny Day Senior Residence, a facility which could handle patients with a range of medical needs.

Dorothy was admitted to Sunny Day on March 3rd, 2011. Dorothy's personal physician, Dr. Tutrone, came to visit her the next day. He reviewed Sunny Day's Chart and prescribed the painkiller Vicodin ES and the muscle relaxant Alprazolam. Dr. Tutrone ordered that Dorothy remain on the same medications and dosages until further notice.

Over the next week Dorothy seemed to be recovering well but by March 9th, Jonathan couldn't help but notice his mother had taken a turn for the worse. She appeared agitated and was perspiring profusely. She said she couldn't sleep and her bones ached. She was suffering from muscle spasms as well.

Jonathan asked Dr, Tutrone if he might stop by to see his mother since at this point Jonathan was quite concerned about his mother's rapid deterioration. Dr. Tutrone agreed and during his visit he examined Dorothy and drew her blood for tests.

The results of these tests surprised Dr. Tutrone. His surprise quickly turned to anger because Dorothy's blood results were negative for benzodiazepines and opiates. With the dosages of Vicodin and Alprazolam he prescribed for Dorothy, it would have been impossible for her blood not to be positive for both of these classes of drugs.

Jonathan contacted the Police. They commenced a criminal investigation. The investigation uncovered a scheme involving one Registered Nurse and one Licensed Vocational Nurse at the home. Both nurses were complicit in denying patients much of their prescribed medications, especially benzodiazepines and opiates.

In an effort to divert attention away from their scheme, the nurses had substituted vitamins for the narcotics. Both nurses were arrested and charged with Felony Possession of Narcotics with Intent to Deliver, and Felony Abuse of the Elderly.

The Lawsuit...

On behalf of his mother, Jonathan filed a lawsuit against Sunny Day. In his nursing home negligence lawsuit, Jonathan pointed to the acute pain his mother was unnecessarily subjected to by the nurses and their employer, Sunny Day. The lawsuit contended Sunny Day breached the "Standard of Care" they owed to Dorothy. Their passive acknowledgment of the nurses' actions, the suit contended, amounted to negligence.

During his sworn testimony at trial Dr. Tutrone stated with a "high degree of medical certainty" the denial of her prescribed medication caused Dorothy to suffer life threatening symptoms such as:

  • Acute Anxiety
  • Prolonged Insomnia
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Grand Mal Seizures

Dr. Tutrone testified Dorothy should have been titrated slowly off the medications. He testified she must have suffered terrible pain and discomfort equal to, or more than a person undergoing withdrawal from heroin. He said it was miraculous she survived the ordeal.

Since the filing of the nursing home negligence lawsuit, Dorothy's health deteriorated rapidly. She was confined to her home and unable to testify in the suit. Although impossible to prove, Dr. Tutrone testified he believed the rapid and uncontrolled sudden narcotic withdrawal placed a tremendous strain on Dorothy's organs. Her improper and untitrated opiate and benzodiazepine withdrawal could easily be the cause of her health's continued deterioration.

Sunny Day's attorneys called Sunny Day's Nursing Administrator to testify. The administrator testified Sunny Day exercised all methods of Standard Reasonable Care to insure Dorothy's health was protected. The Administrator testified the nurses involved had clean records and had offered no previous evidence of wrongdoing.

Sunny Day's attorneys next called to testify two additional nurses who alternated in caring for Dorothy. They testified Dorothy never complained to them about her condition. They said if she had complained, standard procedure would have been for them to report those complaints to the Nursing Supervisor.

They further testified each time they came on duty they checked Dorothy's chart. At all times the chart showed Dorothy had been administered her Vicodin ES and Alprazolam. If the chart omitted the administration of those medications, that too they said would have been reported to their Supervisor.

Outcome...

After hearing the testimony, reviewing the evidence and hearing the arguments of counsel for both parties in this nursing home negligence lawsuit, the Court ruled as follows:

In the case of those of us who become infirm and rely upon the promises of the very institutions which solicit the elderly and the children of the infirm with promises of medical care and supervision, we must hold those medical care facilities to a very high standard.

Sunny Day wholly failed to maintain and provide that standard of care we believed necessary to protect the plaintiff Dorothy Palmer. As a result, we hold for the Plaintiff and against the Defendant.

Important Points...

  • Medical institutions are held to a very high standard of reasonable care when it involves their patients. Even the criminal activity of an employee will normally not excuse a medical care provider from its duty to insure the sanctity of their patients' medical care.

  • If a court finds a defendant has breached the "Standard of Care," it is an almost certainty that it will award damages to the plaintiff.


*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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