Sepsis, which is also sometimes referred to as septicemia, is a life-threatening illness that occurs when bodily chemicals are released into the bloodstream to fight infection, and instead cause inflammation. Failure to deliver timely, appropriate treatment can result in septic shock, which leads to organ failure, brain damage and death.
Sepsis can occur in nursing home patients who contract it from bacterial infections from:
- Urinary tract infections
- Bed sores
- Respiratory tract infections
- Infections from IVs, catheters or other tubes
Nursing homes that fail to secure proper treatment for nursing home patients who suffer from sepsis may be liable for wrongful death. This was the allegation in the case of Diversicare Leasing Corp. v. Hubbard, before the Alabama Supreme Court.
According to court records, a 23-year-old nursing home patient who suffered from profound mental and physical disabilities died of sepsis in 2011.
The young man had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was just six-months-old. He suffered from developmental delays and seizures, and his mother would later testify he was “profoundly mentally retarded” and was 100 percent dependent upon others for his daily care. He was confined to a wheelchair and could not walk. He was unable to speak, and did not have the ability to dress, feed or clean himself. He could not use his hands. His mental and physical capacity was that of a pre-toddler.
He came to be at the defendant facility two years before his death, after spending some 20 days in the hospital. At the time he was admitted, his mother made all health care decisions for him, executing all health care documents on his behalf and receiving all benefits and support payments for his care.
When he was admitted to the facility, plaintiff signed a number of documents, which included an admission agreement and arbitration agreement. The arbitration agreement indicated that if a dispute arose regarding patient’s care, that dispute would be handled via arbitration rather than litigation.
While there are benefits to both, arbitration is generally preferred by nursing homes, as the outcomes tend to produce lower damage awards and the proceedings are kept confidential.
Plaintiff signed this document as the “resident’s representative.”
However, she would later argue that as decedent was over the age of 21 and she did not have power-of-attorney for him, she was not authorized to sign a binding, legal arbitration agreement on his behalf.
Decedent was found unresponsive by the staff one morning and he was rushed to a local hospital and diagnosed with sepsis. He died the next day.
When his mother filed her nursing home negligence lawsuit, she alleged the center failed to provide proper care for her son.
Defendant nursing home filed a motion to compel arbitration, pointing to the earlier agreement. However, the court sided with plaintiff in finding she was not bound by that agreement. Decedent was at the age of majority and she was not his power of attorney and nor at that point had she been appointed personal representative or guardian by any court.
Nursing home appealed, but the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed.
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Diversicare Leasing Corp. v. Hubbard, Sept. 30, 2015, Alabama Supreme Court
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