Tennessee Supreme Court Reinstates Jury Verdict That Assisted Living Facility Was at Fault in Wrongful Death Suit

Adequate and skillful staffing at Nashville assisted living facilities and nursing homes should be one of the main priorities of management. Patients and their concerned families deserve nothing less than quality care. Unfortunately, this does not always happen and without proper care, patients can suffer. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the lack of proper care, the facility may be liable for damages to the patient or their family. If you suspect that a loved one or family member has been the subject of abuse or neglect at a nursing home or similar facility, you are encouraged to contact an experienced Nashville personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

In the recent case of Wilson v. Americare Systems, the resident patient’s doctor prescribed a daily dose of medicine for constipation. The assisted living facility nursing staff failed to give her the recommended dosage according to the doctor’s orders. The patient experienced further constipation and visited with her doctor again, who then prescribed four enemas per day. After the nursing staff failed to comply with those instructions, and gave the patient only two enemas in three days, she died from a perforated colon. The patient’s daughters filed a wrongful death claim against the nurse who gave the patient the enema on the day she died, the director of nursing staff of the assisted living center, the owner of the facility and its management company. The complaint alleged that defendants’ treatment of the patient deviated from the applicable standards of care, causing their mother’s death.

After a trial, the jury rendered a verdict apportioning fault as follows: the nurse: 30%, director of nursing: 20%, and the management company: 50%, due to its failure to provide adequate staffing at the facility. The jury awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $300,000, and $5,000,000 in punitive damages against the management company. The company appealed. The appellate court reversed the verdict, finding that there was insufficient evidence that lack of staffing proximately caused patient’s death.

The Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated the jury’s verdict, finding that there was enough material evidence that deficiencies in staffing was the proximate cause of patient’s death. The court based this decision on several factors: (1) the nurse testified that she communicated to management the under staffing problems on more than one occasion; (2) there was evidence to support the notion that such inadequate staffing led to deviations and lapses from the requisite standard of care; and (3) there was also sufficient evidence that such deviations from the proper standard of care were “substantial factors” in patient’s death. Here, the nurse told management that they didn’t have enough staff to take care of the patients; nursing staff continuously failed to give the patient her prescribed laxative and later, her enemas – which led to her constipated and impacted condition. At least one doctor testified that the likely cause of patient’s death was the colon perforation due to administering the enema in patient’s impacted condition. The court also remanded the issue of punitive damages back to the appellate court.

Wrongful death cases are, by their very nature, difficult for the surviving family members. It is important to have an experienced Nashville attorney to help you understand your rights and to navigate the — sometimes complex — court proceedings.

At the Law Office of David S. Hagy, PLC, Mr. Hagy is personally involved in all aspects of every case and ensures that our clients have the individualized attention they deserve. For questions about a personal injury or wrongful death claim, including your right to damages, please contact us online or by calling (615) 975-7882.

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