When a nurse violently attacks her elderly patient, the victim’s family sues the nursing home for negligence.
This review examines an incident involving nurse negligence and physical abuse. After a nurse beats an elderly man, the resident’s family filed suit against the nursing home, claiming that the facility had failed to properly screen and monitor its staff.
This case study 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.
We’ll cover how our victim was injured, criminal penalties for elder abuse, the family’s civil lawsuit, and the final resolution to the nursing home case.
Our study finishes up with a list of important points about elder abuse in nursing homes.
Statement of Facts
On a sunny Monday in March, 71-year-old Mark Galer moved to the Bellarme Nursing Home.
Bellarme was a nursing home facility licensed to provide residential care to patients. State law only required that there be at least one Registered Nurse on staff. Most direct patient care was handled by Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) and certified nursing assistants.
Bellarme hired Sheila Willis as a Licensed Practical Nurse. Her duties included: giving medications to patients, wound care, delivering food trays, assisting patients with meals, and direct patient care, including bathing, dressing, and other personal care.
Bellarme’s standard hiring procedure was to run a criminal background check and verify at least three of the applicant’s references.
By the time Mr. Galer moved to Bellarme, Willis had worked there for six months and had been verbally reprimanded on three separate occasions for negligently ignoring patient requests.
Willis had also been written up twice for nurse negligence. 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 “slipped on a wet floor, causing her to accidentally push” the patient’s wheelchair into the wall.
The second written reprimand for nurse negligence was for striking a patient who was complaining about Willis’s rudeness. Willis contended she didn’t hit 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 accidentally hit his face.” In that incident, as well, the man was not seriously injured.
The Incident of Abuse
In January, Galer underwent hip replacement surgery. He remained in the local hospital for three days before he was released to Bellarme.
Galer was confined to his bed or his wheelchair. The nurses helped him get into bed and helped him get out of bed and into his wheelchair.
Three days after his return, Galer rang his call bell to ask for a nurse to help him get into his wheelchair so he could go to the bathroom. As his need for the bathroom became urgent, Galer called out many times and received no response.
That day Willis was assigned to take care of eight patients. Galer was one of them.
Finally, after Galer had been yelling for help for over five minutes, Willis entered his room. According to other staff who were with Willis just before her responding to Galer’s shouts for help, Willis was upset with having to break away from the television show she and some other nurses regularly watched during their shift.
Willis went into Galer’s room, followed by a nursing assistant who came to check on another patient.
At that point, Willis was heard to shout at Galer, saying, “I’m tired of your ass!” Immediately after making that statement, Willis picked up a telephone book and struck Galer in his face, breaking his nose.
Galer tried 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 screaming for help.
The nursing assistant who followed Willis into the room had been tending to another patient when she heard Willis tell Galer she was “tired of [his] ass.” Turning to see what was happening, she saw Willis strike Galer in the face with the telephone book and hit his head and face with her hands.
The nursing assistant immediately attempted to restrain Willis from further attacking Galer. Willis was 5’6″ and weighed almost 200 pounds, while the nursing assistant was only 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 staff members 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 pulled away.
Galer was slumped in his bed with blood spewing from his mouth and nose. One of the nurses immediately called 911. Within minutes the police and paramedics arrived. Galer was stabilized and rushed to the local hospital.
Willis was placed under arrest for assault and battery. She was later found guilty of criminal assault against an elderly person and sentenced to five years in jail.
Lawsuit Against the Nursing Home
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 staff member who was on duty the day of the attack and the nursing home administrators. She also issued a subpoena to Bellarme requesting Willis’s personnel records and the security system videotape that captured the sounds from Willis’s attack on Galer.
During her deposition, the Chief Administrator of Bellarme admitted during questioning that she did not run a criminal background check or contact Willis’s references before hiring Willis.
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 paper. She also asked the administrator 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 Sheila Willis. The administrator said, “It appears so.”
Finally, the attorney played the security video that captured the assault and asked the administrator if she could confirm that the tape was an accurate portrayal of Galer’s assault. The administrator agreed it was.
Three days after the administrator’s deposition, the attorneys for Bellarme entered into a settlement agreement with Mr. Galer. The amount of the settlement was undisclosed.
Important Points About Nurse Negligence
- Elderly and dependent adults are particularly vulnerable to abuse by caregivers, so most states have robust laws to punish abusers.
- Elder abuse may be physical, mental, sexual, or financial.
- Neglect is a form of abuse in nursing homes that can result in an elderly patient’s wrongful death.
- Nursing home abuse victims and their families often have the right to file a civil lawsuit, even if no criminal charges are filed against the wrong-doer.
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