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Manor Care Inc. v. Douglas – Nursing Home Dehydration Death Weighed

When the 87-year-old West Virginia woman was admitted to a nursing home in late 2009, she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other health issues. Nevertheless, she was able to recognize and communicate with family members, she could walk with the use of a walker and she was well-nourished and well-hydrated.
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Less than 20 days into her stay, she became bedridden, dehydrated, malnourished and unresponsive. She fell numerous times and sustained head trauma. She developed painful sores in her mouth that required daily scraping of dead tissue and debris. After 19 days, she was transferred to another nursing home and then shortly thereafter to a hospital and then to hospice. She died 18 days after leaving the original nursing home.

Her cause of death? Severe dehydration, according to physicians quoted in the case of Manor Care Inc. v. Douglas.

Hollywood nursing home abuse lawyers are committed to holding accountable those facilities and staffers that allow such egregious neglect and negligence. No one should have to suffer the way this woman did.

Dehydration is defined by the American Medical Association as an excessive loss of bodily fluid that results in rapid weight loss and a host of other problems. In nursing home settings among elderly residents, dehydration is the result of neglect- pure and simple. Staffers either forget or refuse to provide patients with enough liquid.

The results of a 1999 study conducted by Kayser-Jones et al. indicated that of 40 nursing home residents surveyed, only one was fully and properly hydrated. Residents often can’t physically get up or get their own drinks, or may not be able to voice when they feel thirsty. Staffers have to be diligent in ensuring all patients receive the proper amount of fluids.

Too many facilities, however, contain staffers who are overworked and underpaid. It doesn’t bode well for proper patient care.

In the Manor Care case, evidence was presented at trial indicating this particular facility was “chronically understaffed.” One worker who complained of the problem was reprimanded for the complaint, and the complaint was ultimately removed from company records. The state department of health had noted prior to this woman’s admission to the facility that there were problems with lack of staff and improper record-keeping. Still, nothing was done.

The woman’s son filed suit on behalf of his mother and himself individually. Defendants included numerous corporate entities (many of which are now off-limits for Florida resident nursing home litigation, following Gov. Scott’s approval of S.B. 670), as well as the management company, employed workers, administrators and directors. He alleged violations of state law, as well as breach of fiduciary duty and corporate negligence.

After 10 days of trial, the jury sided with the plaintiff, awarding $11.5 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive (punishment) damages.

The defendants appealed, alleging numerous errors by the trial court.

The West Virginia Supreme Court agreed with defendants that mistakes were made. For example, the court improperly determined some of the woman’s injuries fell under the Medical Professional Liability Act, which has stricter requirements in terms of plaintiff burden of proof. The court also improperly found a breach of fiduciary duty. On both of these counts, the compensatory awards were slashed by $1.5 million and $5 million respectively – or 56 percent of the total.

As such, the court ruled the punitive damages should be adjusted accordingly, bringing the total punitive damages award down to $36 million.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Manor Care Inc. v. Douglas, June 18, 2014, West Virginia Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Gov. Scott Signs S.B. 670, Shielding Nursing Home Investors From Litigation, June 20, 2014, Hollywood Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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