Here is an article discussing the recent $54 million verdict in a nursing home neglect case in New Mexico.

Lori Keith was awarded the compensatory and punitive damages against ManorCare Inc., a nursing home corporation out of Toledo, Ohio, for neglecting her mother causing her death.  At the time of her death, Barbara Barber was due to leave the ManorCare Camino Vista facility within a week to stay with family, Keith said. So when a phone call came about Barber’s death, Keith said she knew something was wrong. 

The verdict reached yesterday in Albuquerque includes four million dollars in compensatory damages and 50 million in punitive damages over the 2004 death of 78-year-old Barbara Barber.

The doctor who did the autopsy said Barber died of internal bleeding. The family’s attorneys produced evidence that the bleeding had been going on for several days without response.

Tthe nursing home tried to cover up the death by taking away sheets and other items in the room.

The corporation was responsible for the death, jurors decided, and they said the corporation owed Barber’s family for it.   The company declined to comment on specific details of the litigation.

A Cleveland, Tenn., nursing home company has settled a lawsuit for neglecting its patients and allowing an elderly woman to lie in her own feces for hours at a time after back surgery.

The woman, Betty Mae Hanzel of Hastings, developed an infection in her wound during her stay at the Life Care Center of Elkhorn that required surgery to reopen her incision and drain the infection and fecal matter in the wound.

Terms of the settlement between Hanzel and Life Care Centers of America of Cleveland, Tenn., were not disclosed.  According to the federal lawsuit, the nursing home staff allowed Hanzel to lie in her own feces and urine for extended periods and told Hanzel to get her own water even though she couldn’t get out of bed.

Near the end of her stay at the home, Hanzel discovered a discharge from her surgical incision, but staff did not tell her doctor about the condition.  Later, she developed blood clots in the arteryleading to her lungs and a "super-infection of the bowel," which led to surgery to remove most of her colon. 

Nurses who used to work at the home in west Omaha said the facility was often short on nurses, and some evenings one registered nurse was responsible for 120 patients, according to depositions taken as part of the lawsuit.

Life Care Centers of America owns and manages more than 260 facilities in 28 states _ including retirement communities, assisted-living facilities and nursing homes.

A federal jury awarded $1.75 million to a woman who said her sister lost her dignity in the last days of her life because of unhygienic conditions and improper care at a Charleston nursing home.

Tammy Rectenwald, 44, lived at Meadowbrook Acres on Greenbrier Street from March 1999 until October 2003.

On Oct. 8, 2003, she had chest congestion and other signs of pneumonia, but nursing home staff did not call her family or an ambulance.  When the nursing home called Taylor 12 hours later, she insisted that Rectenwald be sent to the hospital.

Rectenwald died a week later at Saint Francis Hospital, where doctors found evidence that she had been neglected, such as an infected catheter site and dirty nails and skin. 

Taylor sued Harrell Memorial Nursing Home Inc., which owns the nursing home, and Nursing Care Management of America Inc., which manages it. Both companies are based in Ohio. The jury found on April 20 the company failed to provide adequate care for Rectenwald.

The award is West Virginia’s second-highest nursing home verdict. “The only way to punish a facility and make them clean up their act is financially,” he said.

I saw an article about a NY family who settled a fall case for $300,000 after a jury found the nursing home negligent for failing to put up bed rails.

 Palisades resident Gertrude J. Shapiro was in the nursing home recovering from an operation after a fall that left her other hip broken when the accident occurred in October 2001, her lawyer said yesterday.

A Rockland County jury ruled earlier this month that Nyack Manor was negligent in not making sure the bed rails on her bed were used properly. Shapiro’s family and the nursing home reached a settlement this week before a second jury could rule on damages.

See link www.nynews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article

In November of 2005 a Spartanburg County jury ordered White Oak Manor-Spartanburg to pay more than $1 million to the family of a former resident.  Pearl Sinclair, who was a resident of White Oak Manor from October 2003 through May 2004, was given another patient’s insulin injection and went into insulin shock as a result of the mistake.  Ms. Sinclair’s family claims White Oak Manor’s negligence caused permanent brain damage.   The jury awarded Ms. Sinclair’s family $50,000 in actual damages and $1 million in punatives. 

Ms. Sinclair’s family was represented by Poliakoff & Associates, P.A. of Spartanburg, SC.

BY SEAN JAREM
The Dispatch

A Davidson County jury awarded one of the largest civil judgments in the past 20 years Thursday when it found a Lexington nursing home responsible for mistreatment of an Alzheimer’s disease patient.

After three days of testimony and three hours of deliberations, the jury unanimously decided that Living Centers – Southeast Inc., the former owners of Brian Center Nursing Care of Lexington, must pay $480,000 to Emma H. King after she developed numerous pressure sores on her body. The pressure sores eventually led her to be permanently crippled.

The 83-year-old woman went into the nursing home May 9, 2002, for care and rehabilitation following knee replacement surgery, according to court records.

Within two months, King lost nearly 20 pounds, became dehydrated and developed pressure sores in the sacral area. She then developed two more pressure ulcers on her knees, according to medical records provided during the trial.

Jurors heard evidence that King developed a fever after the sores became infected and had to be hospitalized. When she was admitted back into the Brian Center she never recovered from the injuries and eventually lost the use of her legs.

Family members of King took her out of the nursing home Aug. 28, 2003. For a year, she had to undergo surgery on a weekly basis.

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Damages and Awards in Medical Malpractice Cases

The voice at the other end of the phone says, "My mother was terribly hurt at the hospital. Will you take my malpractice case?" How should the attorney or the office staff taking this call respond? Medical malpractice cases are among the most complex and costly in the plaintiff personal injury law firm. Careful screening of these cases will avoid much fruitless work and expense. This article will focus on the evaluation of damages as well as recent award trends in medical malpractice cases.

One model of screening the medical malpractice case suggests that the attorney should evaluate the four components of liability in their order: duty of the healthcare practitioner to the patient, breach of this duty, proximate causation of damages and damages. A more useful model is to first evaluate damages, before even addressing duty, breach of duty and causation issues.

Given the estimated $25,000-$100,000 cost of bringing a medical malpractice case through five or more years of litigation before trial, it is essential to understand the damages alleged by the plaintiff. The severity and permanency of the injuries must both be considered. Some of the questions to ask when the phone call comes in as described at the beginning of this article include: What happened to your mother? Who said she was injured? How old is your mother? Is she working? Did she lose work as a result of the injury? Have the injuries been permanent? What is her current condition? What was her health before the incident?

High damages cases
Significant injuries are relatively easy to identify during the initial screening. An analysis of plaintiff verdicts in medical malpractice cases1 showed that between 1994-2000 the most frequently claimed injury was other, followed by death. Birth injuries, cancer diagnosis, delayed treatment, (incorrect) diagnosis and medication errors resulted in the highest verdicts. The highest median award was given for severe brain injury ($4,280,000). Median award refers to the middle value or the norm among awards arranged in ascending order.

The median compensatory award in 2000 was $1,000,000, up from $700,00 in 1999.

Low damages cases
Clearly the low to moderate damages cases outnumber the significant damages claims. These claims can eat up the resources of a law firm, with sometimes disappointing results. Low damages cases tend to fall into several categories:

Podiatric or chiropractic: Unless the person has a loss of a foot or part of afoot, or develops paralysis as a result of chiropractic manipulation, these are low damages case.

Minor treatment injuries: Minor treatment injuries, such as suturing a wound and leaving behind glass or embedded objects, or loss of a toe, are low injury cases.

Eye cases: Eye cases include the common allegation of a bad outcome after cataract extractions. Eye cases that are difficult to defend include loss of vision due to prolonged use of corticosteroids, failure to diagnose glaucoma, failure to diagnose a penetrating foreign body, and failure to diagnose an infection. Eye records are challenging to interpret and therefore can complicate the screening of these types of cases.

Dental cases: Dental cases include loss of a tooth or nerve injuries following extraction of a tooth or surgery. In teeth cases, the expenses of the treatment must be balanced against the expenses which would have been incurred had the malpractice not occurred. Osteomyelitis of the jaw after dental surgery is an example of a high damages claim for this category of malpractice. Like eye records, dental records are usually difficult to read.

Surgical scarring or bad results from plastic surgery such as a face lift or tummy tuck may occur. The jury may feel little sympathy for these patients. An exception may be deformity of the face caused by failure to diagnose a postoperative infection or an error in surgical technique. The pursuit of these claims is frequently hampered by the difficulty in finding affordable plastic surgeons willing to act as expert witnesses.

Burns, unless they are to exposed parts of the body such as the face or hands, are low value cases.

Time limited damages with no permanency such as a brief overnight admission to the hospital following a medication error, or anger over the treatment provided by the healthcare provider are low damages cases.

Bad outcomes in very sick people are difficult cases to litigate. Damages of significant intensity (such as death or amputation) may lose their impact when the patient was critically or terminally ill. These cases are time consuming and costly to screen, given the costs of obtaining the volumes of medical records and the time needed to wade through the medical chronicles. These cases may additionally be complicated by the difficulty in convincing the plaintiff that while the outcome was severe, the case would be complex and expensive to pursue, with no guarantee of success.

Bad outcomes not affected by missed or delayed diagnosis such as terminal cancer or chronic incurable diseases and difficult to litigate. A delay in diagnosis may have had no impact on the patient’s prognosis. These cases require careful screening to determine the nature of the condition and the availability of effective treatment.

Moderate damages
Moderate damages cases, as defined by the typical size of the award, in the last decade resulted in median verdicts ranging from $355,000-$668,000. These included (in order of lowest to highest median award): negligent supervision, negligent surgery, nonsurgical treatment, lack of informed consent and medication errors. Medication errors resulted in a median award of $668,000, the highest of the moderate damages awards.

If the case meets the criteria of having sufficient damages to warrant further investigation, consider using a medical professional to screen the case to look for plausible explanations for the damages. Determine in advance if the screening professional will act as an expert witness for you or will be in the role of gatekeeper. Since the screening professional’s hourly fees are usually lower than those of an expert witness, it is economical to use the screener to identify the cases without merit. The screening professional (doctor or nurse) should be experienced in recognizing the valid cases and not hesitant to identify the claim without merit. Although identification of the value of the damages in the claim is a vital first step, the screener cannot stop there. Recognition of the critical link between proximate cause and damages, knowledge of the applicable standard of care, and the ability to identify the plaintiff who lacks jury appeal are equally important.

Med League Support Services Inc. provides screening of medical and nursing malpractice cases and expert witnesses. Contact our office for more information.

1. Shannon, J. and Boxold, D., Medical Malpractice: Verdicts, Settlements and Statistical Analysis, LRP Publications, Horsham, PA, 2002.

Wrong Insulin Dose, Other Neglect Results In $1.05 Million Nursing Home Verdict
By Gregory Froom

The estate of a diabetic woman whose blood sugar plummeted after she was injected with another patient’s insulin has won a $1.05 million verdict against the Upstate nursing home where she resided.

The estate claimed that the 85-year-old patient suffered increased dementia after an incorrect insulin dose administered by nursing home staff sent her into hypoglycemic shock, or extremely low blood sugar.

A Spartanburg County jury ordered the facility, White Oak Manor, to pay the woman’s estate $50,000 in actual damages and $1 million in punitives. The verdict was handed down in November.

The case is Clark v. White Oak Manor, Court of Common Pleas No. 04-CP-42-1932. Judge J. Derham Cole presided at trial.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Gary W. Poliakoff of Spartanburg, said the jury’s finding that White Oak Manor was reckless in its treatment of the patient made the punitive award permissible.

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Estate Settles Nursing Home Neglect Claim Over Dehydration
Plaintiffs Claimed Facility Failed To Address Fluid Intake, Urinary Infection
$300,000 Mediated Settlement

Principal injuries (in order of severity): Dehydration, malnutrition and UTI causing death.

County where tried or settled: York

Case Name and Number: Barley et al. v. White Oak Manor – York, Inc. et al., York County Court of Common Pleas Case No. 2004-CP-46-987 & -988.

Date Concluded: July 13, 2005

Name of Judge: Hon. John C. Hayes, III

Amount: $300,000.

Attorneys for plaintiff: Anthony L. Harbin and John P. Griffith of Anderson

Other Useful Info: The decedent was admitted to the defendants’ nursing home in June 2000 with multiple health problems and chronic conditions. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants were aware of his high risk for dehydration. The decedent also lost a significant amount of weight during his stay in the nursing home, according to the plaintiffs’ case report. In June 2001, decedent began to experience greater weight loss and poor oral intake. This increased his risk factor for dehydration, but the defendants failed to care plan and implement interventions to monitor him more closely to prevent dehydration from occurring, according to the plaintiffs. Defendants failed to ensure that decedent was receiving at least the minimum amount of fluid intake to prevent dehydration and failed to treat his UTI causing his death, the plaintiffs alleged. The decedent was ultimately admitted to the hospital for dehydration and a urinary tract infection and he died two days later. The hospital records stated that decedent was "clinically dry." The decedent was survived by his wife, one minor child and one adult child.

The defendants settled without admitting any liability, according to the settlement order.