This is a review of a lawsuit which resulted in a nursing home negligence settlement. The lawsuit was originally filed after an outbreak of food poisoning spread through a nursing home, causing serious illness and hospitalization of several elderly patients.
The County Health Department previously cited the nursing home for food preparation violations. Those violations included improper temperature for food storage, improper sterilization of cooking utensils, and preparing vegetables on the same cutting boards as meat.
The son of one of the elderly patients retained counsel and sought restitution for the medical costs as well as his mother’s pain and suffering, either through a jury award or through a nursing home negligence settlement.
Statement of Facts…
On January 5th, 2011, Robert Daddario admitted his 79-year-old mother Elizabeth Lord to the Red Tree Senior Living Complex. Red Tree was a large complex containing 240 beds and a staff of 100, including medical doctors, nurses, orderlies, and support personnel.
On or about February 5th Daddario received a telephone call from the on-duty supervising nurse. She informed Daddario his mother had been moved to the medical wing of the nursing home. She said his mother had been feeling nauseous for the last 72 hours, and had been suffering from diarrhea and dehydration. She said his mother had also been running a fever of 100 degrees for at least the last 48 hours.
The doctors ordered a full blood workup and ordered she be placed on 24-hour observation. The supervising nurse went on to say approximately an hour ago his mother was taken to Medford Memorial Hospital’s emergency room.
Daddario was very upset with the news. He demanded to know why he wasn’t notified earlier of his mother’s serious health condition. The nurse said they were hoping it was just a “24 hour bug.”
Unknown to Daddario, his mother wasn’t the only patient who had taken ill. There were at least 7 other patients who had suffered the same symptoms. Several had been hospitalized, with one patient presently in intensive care.
Elizabeth Lord recovered and was released into the care of Daddario. Since he first learned of his mother’s illness and hospitalization, Daddario was contacted by another patient’s daughter. She informed Daddario an investigation had taken place, and it was learned an epidemic of Salmonella had broken out.
It was further determined over the last 2 years the nursing home had previous outbreaks of Salmonella. In addition they had numerous health code violations and had paid thousands of dollars in fines.
Daddario, unsure of what he should do next, contacted a personal injury attorney. He found several who specialized in nursing home abuse and negligence cases. After visiting with three attorneys he decided to retain a personal injury law firm whose success in nursing home injury negligence cases was well known.
Before filing suit Daddario’s attorneys attempted to negotiate what was referred to as a nursing home negligence settlement. When all reasonable attempts to settle failed, a lawsuit was filed.
The lawsuit contended the nursing home had a standard of care by which it should operate.
The “Standard of Reasonable Care” is a legal term which covers all the responsibilities and duties a party has to a person who is in their care. The standard of care changes from relationship to relationship. A bus driver or an airline pilot might be held to a standard of care which makes them responsible for their passengers’ immediate physical safety, while a nursing home is held responsible for their patient’s long term health and wellbeing.
Standards of care are not always explicitly spelled out for a party. A court can determine what care should be obvious to a reasonable person in a particular situation and then judge a party by that standard.
In this case, the plaintiff argued that the nursing home had an obvious standard of care which it breached, and the result of the breach was negligence. The plaintiff contended this negligence resulted in Salmonella bacteria being spread among the patients through their contact with various foods.
Because of the need to prepare and serve well over 70 meals per shift, kitchen personnel often permitted food to remain unrefrigerated, food to be contaminated with the other food, and food preparation utensils to be used several times on various foods without being properly sterilized. All those factors and more, Daddario’s suit alleged, resulted in the contamination of the nursing home’s food.
The lawsuit sued for Lord’s actual damages, including, but not limited to her medical bills, her out-of-pocket expenses such as prescription medication and over the counter aids, her loss of affection with her son and daughter, and finally an undetermined amount for the pain and suffering she endured.
During the trial testimony was adduced confirming that health code violations had been persistent at the Red Tree Senior Living Complex for at least 3 years. During that time Red Tree was ordered to pay over $13,000 in fines. At one point the kitchen was shut down for a whole week by the Health Department while it brought the kitchen “back into code.”
Further testimony confirmed two other outbreaks of Salmonella had occurred at Red Tree within the last 18 months. The outbreaks were contained and no patients were seriously injured or hospitalized. The patients though, and their families and caretakers, were never informed about the outbreak of Salmonella poisoning and the effect those outbreaks had on the patients.
The Court ruled Red Tree breached its Standard of Care to Lord. In its opinion the Court stated:
The Red Tree case is an excellent example of the legal concept of the Standard of Reasonable Care and the consequences for its breach.
The Court ruled for the Plaintiff and against the Defendant. The two parties agreed upon a nursing home negligence settlement prior to an award being given by the Court.
Once the concept of “Standard of Care” is understood, there is then a natural progression from there to the eventual consequences of that breach. The concept of Standard of Reasonable Care and its breach often results in a lawsuit filed by the person for whom that standard of care was owed and breached.
The terms “Breach of the Standard of Care” and negligence are intertwined. We know when a standard of care has been breached because an action or inaction caused that breach. The action or inaction is the negligent behavior of the party who owes the standard of care to the victim. Often, nursing home negligence settlements are in response to a breach of the standard of care by a facility.
*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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