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Harmon v. Star Valley Med. Ctr. – Nursing Home Negligence Claim Arises From Fatal Fall

An elderly woman receiving care at a nursing home facility fell while being assisted out of bed by staffers. It was 11 hours before the administration called for her transport to a hospital emergency room, where it was determined she had fractured her hip and femur. Following emergency surgery conducted two days later, she died within six days of her fall.
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Her family filed suit, and the case of Harmon v. Star Valley Med. Ctr. was recently permitted to proceed by the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Our West Palm Beach nursing home abuse lawyers find this scenario is all too frequently results in serious or fatal injuries.

Florida Statute 400.022 holds that nursing home residents are entitled to basic rights, and among those is an adequate standard of care. While falls may be accidental, they are most certainly foreseeable and avoidable, if staffers properly identify those at risk and take the appropriate action to prevent them.

Despite this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports some 1,800 nursing home residents die annually from fall-related injuries. In an average, 100-bed facility, there are between 100 and 200 falls reported to state officials. The actual number is believed to be far higher, as the incidents are grievously under-reported, and injured parties may lack the capacity or confidence to ensure a report is made.

While it’s true the elderly are more prone than younger people to suffering a fall, nursing home residents fall at a far greater rate than those who live in other arrangements. Over one-third of these incidents are suffered by people who can’t walk. As many as a quarter are attributed to environmental hazards at the facility.

Even seemingly minor falls can lead to fractures. reduced function and disability. When one becomes less mobile, this can also contribute to social isolation and depression.

Then, of course, there are the situations, like the Harmon case, in which a fall leads to serious injury or death.

The primary question in this case, which had not yet made it to the trial phase, was whether the claim had been properly filed under the state’s newest standards for wrongful death claims.

Specifically, the defendants argued the complaint was defective because it had not been signed under oath or certified under penalty of perjury, which the new law requires.

In response, the plaintiff argued she had substantially complied with the certification and signature requirements, and that her use of the word “paying” instead of “perjury” was a typographical error that should not bar her claim.

The district court granted the defense motion for a summary judgment, despite the fact that the defect argument hadn’t been raised until nine months after receiving the initial complaint.

Upon review, the state supreme court agreed that the complaint technically failed to meet the requirements under the new law. However, the defendants, by waiting nine months after receiving the complaint, failed to promptly raise the assertion of failure to satisfy a condition precedent as an affirmative defense.

Therefore, the court found, the surviving family of the woman who suffered this fatal nursing home fall may continue with litigation.

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

Additional Resources:
Harmon v. Star Valley Med. Ctr., July 16, 2014, Wyoming Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Florida Gets Low Ranking for Elderly Care and Support, July 30, 2014, West Palm Beach Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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