The St. Louis Dispatch reported the tragic and preventable wrongful death of Donna Chapman who caught fire and suffered fatal burns in May while smoking a cigarette in her wheelchair. On May 13, a member of the staff wheeled Chapman onto the patio, then left her alone to smoke a cigarette before dinner. Chapman somehow ignited her clothing and was found ablaze by an attendant.
“I am burning alive, I am burning alive,” Chapman kept saying, according to an investigative report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. She suffered third-degree burns to her scalp, chest, neck and shoulders.
Chapman died May 15, two days after she caught fire while smoking unsupervised on a patio at NHC HealthCare. Her son, Dean Chapman filed the wrongful-death suit Oct. 23.
The suit claims the nursing home improperly left the disabled woman alone while she smoked without a special burn resistant apron that was supposed to protect her from ashes and dropped cigarettes. The suit also says the nursing home failed to adequately assess her ability to smoke unsupervised and detect changes in her mental and physical condition.
Chapman had dementia, and because of her paralysis, limited use of her legs and left arm. She was a longtime smoker. The nursing home performed eight “smoking assessments” for her between 2012 and March 17, 2017, the suit says. All of the assessments determined she could smoke without supervision, despite concern expressed by staff in October 2016 and the discovery of burn marks on her clothing in February, the suit adds.
In March, the nursing home did tell Chapman she had to wear a special smoking apron to protect her from hot ashes and dropped cigarettes. Despite concerns that her dementia was worsening and that burn marks continued to be found on her clothes, she was put on the back porch alone on May 13 without a smoking apron, the suit says.
Peimann, the nursing home administrator, told the Post-Dispatch in May that Chapman’s death was “a bad accident.”
David Terry, an attorney for Dean Chapman, said: “For a nursing home to provide a safe environment for its residents, there must be enough staff members to properly supervise the residents and the staff needs to be sufficiently trained to meet the needs of each resident. We believe in this case the NHC facility failed to do that.”