Case Example: Nursing Home Medications Negligence

This negligence lawsuit case involves nursing home staff convicted of stealing pain medications from suffering elderly patients.

When an elderly cancer patient is deprived of the medications she needs for pain management, the negligent nursing home is forced to pay.

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, the criminal activity of nursing home employees, and the final resolution of the elderly woman’s lawsuit.

Our study concludes with key points you should know about nursing home negligence and abuse claims.

Statement of Facts

Dorothy Parker was a 75-year old widow who lived alone with her little dog, Buster. Early one April morning, Dorothy and Buster where returning home from their daily walk.

As she climbed the three brick steps up to her front door, Dorothy’s leg gave way. She slipped and fell. Luckily, a neighbor saw her fall and rushed to her aid. Dorothy was in severe pain and was soon taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital.

After many scans and blood tests, Dorothy was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. The cancer had spread to Dorothy’s liver, spine, and leg bones, causing her sudden leg fracture.

Dorothy discussed her options with her children and her doctors. They all agreed Dorothy should move to a nursing home for skilled care and pain management until her leg was healed. In the meantime, her son Jonathan and his wife Ruth would convert a first-floor family room into a cheerful room and bath for Dorothy.

While in the hospital, Dorothy’s pain was stabilized with increased doses of narcotics. She took regular scheduled doses of morphine, with additional doses of hydromorphone for breakthrough pain.

Dorothy’s primary physician, Dr. Thomas, explained to her family that opioid dependency was inevitable, but the only way to keep Dorothy from suffering as the cancer continued to attack her bones.

Jonathan and Ruth looked for the best nursing home they could find nearest their home. They finally settled on a skilled-care facility called Sunny Haven Nursing Center.

Drug Stealing Nurses Deprive Patients

Dorothy was admitted to Sunny Haven the first week in May. Her doctor ordered the continuing pain-management regimen of morphine and hydromorphone, along with her non-narcotic medications, until further notice. With her pain under control, Dorothy was able to enjoy her knitting, crossword puzzles, and visits from friends and family.

Over the next week Dorothy seemed to be recovering well but by mid-May, 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, felt sick, and her bones ached. She was suffering from muscle spasms as well.

Jonathan contacted Dr. Thomas,  since at this point Jonathan was quite concerned about his mother’s rapid deterioration. Dr. Thomas had Dorothy transferred back to the hospital for further testing.

The results of these tests surprised Dr. Thomas. His surprise quickly turned to anger because Dorothy’s blood results were negative for morphine or hydromorphone. With the dosages of narcotics he prescribed for Dorothy, it would have been impossible for her blood not to be positive for both drugs.

Dr. Thomas contacted the police.  The police investigation uncovered a scheme involving two nurses at Sunny Haven. Both nurses were complicit in depriving patients of their prescribed medications, especially opiates.

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

Negligence Lawsuit Against the Nursing Home

Jonathan hired a personal injury attorney on behalf of his mother, to file a lawsuit against Sunny Haven.

The lawsuit contended Sunny Haven breached the “Duty of Care” they owed to Dorothy. The suit asserted that Sunny Haven was negligent to failing to ensure proper handling and accounting for narcotic medications, failing to train and supervise nursing personnel, and failing to act when Dorothy’s condition began deteriorating.

Dr. Thomas provided written testimony at trial that the denial of her prescribed medication caused Dorothy to suffer terribly from lack of pain management, and the trauma of narcotics withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Intractable pain
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

Dr. Thomas said it was miraculous Dorothy survived the ordeal. He testified he believed the rapid and uncontrolled sudden narcotic withdrawal placed a tremendous strain on Dorothy, and contributed to the accelerate deterioration of her health.

Sunny Haven’s attorneys argued that the nursing home administrators had no knowledge of the drug-stealing scheme. The administrator testified the nurses involved had clean records and had offered no previous evidence of wrongdoing.

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 in Dorothy’s favor.

The ruling stated, in part:

“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.”

Dorothy and her family were awarded $250,000 in damages.

Key Points About Nursing Home Negligence and Abuse

  • Medical institutions are held to an extremely 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 ensure the quality of their patients’ medical care.
  • Nursing home patients have a right to be treated with respect and care, even if the patient may be confused or unable to care for themselves.
  • Be alert to signs of abuse or neglect. Don’t let the nursing home staff dismiss your concerns if their explanation doesn’t make sense.
  • Nursing staff and other elder care providers who steal drugs or otherwise abuse patients will be subject to criminal penalties with stiff sentences for conviction.
Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>