The abuse came to light after the victim’s family installed a hidden camera to catch an apparent thief who was stealing their mother’s belongings. What they discovered instead was far more horrifying.
Footage revealed on one occasion, a nurse aide stuffed a rubber glove into the elderly woman’s mouth. She was also slapped in the head and face as another aide looked on, without voicing concern or complaint. Other images showed the woman being thrown onto the bed, poked in the chest and yelled at.
The patient, who suffered from dementia, was unable to defend herself or reveal to her family what was going on. She had lived at the center for four years by the time the abuse was uncovered.
Victim suffered scrapes, bruises and cuts all over her body throughout the duration of her stay. Prior to the video evidence, those wounds were unexplained by staffers.
When the nursing home abuse was uncovered, police and the nursing home launched simultaneous investigations. One of the aides, who was in the country illegally, was terminated and also arrested for caretaker abuse. After entering a guilty plea, she was sent to prison. The second aide was also fired and arrested. However, she disappeared after her bail was posted and has not been located.
Defendants argued at trial they shouldn’t be held vicariously liable for the illegal actions of workers who violated the nursing home’s own policy. Defense pointed out the center, as soon as the abuse was learned, immediately contacted police, cooperated with the investigation and promptly fired the workers. The violation of patient’s rights, the company stated, were clear and were never denied. However, defense argued the facility should not be held liable when the workers acted outside the scope of their employment.
Plaintiffs, however, based the argument on a theory of vicarious liability. That is, per the legal principle of respondeat superior, companies can be held responsible for the wrongful and even criminal actions of employees, even if the company itself did not condone the actions. It was responsible for putting those workers in a position to care for this vulnerable person, and thus, it should be held accountable when those workers committed abuse.
Ultimately, jurors declined to hold defendant facility liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, but did find the company negligent. Included in that $1.21 million verdict was$10,000 for punitive damages.
Defense attorneys say an appeal is likely, as they believe the law was wrongly interpreted and the damages are excessive. The nursing home is now owned and operated by a different company and director.
This case reveals how video evidence can be critical if a family suspects abuse. Nursing home residents are often unable to speak on their own behalf, and abuse is not likely to occur in front of family or other outsiders. Families often are their loved one’s best and sometimes only advocate. If you suspect a loved one is suffering abuse in a nursing home, contact an experienced injury attorney to learn more about protecting their rights.
Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Former owner of Oklahoma City nursing home owes $1.21 million to abused resident’s daughters, jury decides, Feb. 20, 2015, By Matt Dinger, The Oklahoman
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Analysis: Racial Disparities Uncovered in Quality of Nursing Home Care, Feb. 24, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog