Elder Neglect Lawsuit Against Nursing Home Results in $29M Verdict

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By: Staff Writers | Published: May 28th, 2010

A California nursing home has been hit with a nearly $30 million verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit, including $28 million in punitive damages for failing to provide proper care to a resident who died from an untreated bedsore in the nursing home

The verdict was handed down earlier this month by a Sacramento Superior Court jury, deciding a nursing home lawsuit brought by the family of Frances Tanner, 79, of Stockton. The complaint alleged that Colonial Healthcare of Auburn and its parent company, Horizon West of Rocklin, committed elder neglect, resulting in Tanner’s death in 2005.

Tanner, who suffered from mild dementia, died at the nursing home after being there only seven months. Her death followed a nursing home fall that caused her to break her hip. She then suffered nursing home bedsores, which investigators say caused her death.

Bedsores, also known as pressure sores or decubitus ulcers, occur as a result of a lack of blood flow to an area of the skin caused by prolonged pressure on one area of the body. They most often develop in places with prominent bones beneath thin layers of skin, such as the heels, elbows and tailbone. The open sores often afflict nursing home residents and hospital patients with limited mobility who have trouble, or are unable, to move independently.

Most medical organizations consider nursing home bed sores to be a preventable condition that are easily treated if detected early through proper diligence on the part of medical staff and care providers. Failure to prevent, identify, or properly treat bedsores can result in life-threatening infections that enter the bloodstream, known as sepsis.

The lawsuit brought by Tanner’s family included claims that the facility was understaffed and that it failed to keep proper medical records. The jury agreed, awarding the family $1.1 million in damages due to pain, suffering and lost of companionship. The jury then hit Colonial and Horizon West with $28 million in punitive damages, which are only awarded in cases where the jury believes there was malicious, fraudulent or oppressive action on behalf of the defendant.

Officials with Horizon West, which owns 33 nursing homes, disputes the claims of negligence and says it will appeal the verdict, according to a story in the Sacramento Bee.

The claims of poor management are echoed by the most recent review by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS). Federal investigators gave Colonial Healthcare a one-star rating, representing a “much below average” grade. It is the lowest grade a nursing home can be given by federal regulators. CMMS rated its health inspection track record and quality measures as particularly bad, and only rated its nursing home staffing as average.

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