A Virginia jury has returned a verdict totaling $6.5 million for an 84-year-old woman who was injured in a fall at a nursing home. The jury’s verdict included a punitive damages award of $5 million. Obviously, the jury intended to punish the owner of the nursing home for a policy that discouraged the use of bed alarms to signal when a patient was getting out of bed.
When she fell in her bedroom, Mrs. Virginia Crouse was a resident of Stanleytown Health Care Center, owned by the Roanoke, Va.-based Medical Facilities of America, Inc. She had been receiving therapy to boost her mobility after a stroke. The fall broke her shoulder and hip and left her with permanent impairment, particularly in the use of her left arm. Staff members testified a bed alarm was in use and sounded. Evidence was presented at trial that no bed alarm was in use, even though Mrs. Crouse’s care plan called for one.
Family members testified they never saw a bed alarm. EMS providers reportedly saw no bed alarm when they were called because of the fall. An expert witness said there were no indications a bed alarm was in use. A bed alarm is an “early warning device” that signals the staff when a patient is moving in a manner that might lead to a fall. Training materials used by MFA actually discouraged the clinical staff from using bed alarms.
It was reported that the “restraint reduction” training materials “created the fiction of characterizing bed alarms as restraints.” It appears that MFA essentially invited its staff to discontinue the use of safety devices because it would mean less work. It was shown at trial that the facility had insufficient staff to respond to patients who might be in danger of a fall.
The trial was split into two sessions. In the first, the jury was asked to decide liability and compensatory damages with the second considering punitive damages. In the initial session, the jury found that there was no bed alarm in use, despite staff testimony to the contrary. The jury considered Mrs. Crouse’s damages, including $72,000 in medical and special care expenses, and awarded her $1.5 million in compensatory damages.
In the punitive damages portion of the trial, evidence was introduced that MFA discouraged the use of bed alarms throughout its chain of 31 Virginia nursing homes. Inspection reports from the Virginia Department of Health were presented showing a number of cases where bed alarms were absent, contrary to the patients’ care plans. I understand that MFA never made an offer in the case. Robert W. Carter Jr., a lawyer with offices in Appomattox, Va., and Lynchburg, Va., who specializes in nursing home cases, represented Mrs. Crouse in this case and he did a very good job.
Source: Lawyers USA Online
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