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MV Transp., Inc. v. Allgeier – Wheelchair Falls and Negligent Training, Supervision

Too frequently, nursing home workers fail to take seriously the fact that the limited mobility of wheelchair patients places them at a heightened risk for falls. For individuals who already suffer a range of health issues, a fall – even from a relatively short distance – can result in serious and permanent injuries.

Our Coral Springs nursing home negligence lawyers recognize proper training and supervision of workers is critical to ensuring a fall doesn’t occur. This is especially crucial anytime patients are being transported from one location to the other. Transport companies may be additionally liable for any injury that results from falls occurring in the course of transporting patients.

The recent case of MV Transp., Inc. v. Allgeier, the plaintiff was not a nursing home patient, but did use a wheelchair. A fall she suffered as a result of purported negligence by the transport company resulted in her being incapacitated for the better part of a year, causing her to require admittance to a nursing home. The Kentucky Supreme Court weighed the case, and affirmed an earlier judgment by the trial court in favor of the injured plaintiff. The court also reversed an order barring her from collecting punitive damages for the incident, meaning she will receive a bigger payout than what the trial court initially allocated.

According to court records, the woman sought transportation from a bus that was specially equipped to transport individuals in a wheelchair. She suffered multiple sclerosis, and as a result was unable to walk or drive.

On a cold day in December 2006, the bus arrived at a stop and the driver initiated procedures to operate the lift and move the woman onto the bus. She did so without incident. When they arrived at the plaintiff’s stop, the driver failed to inform the plaintiff that the steel plates that bridge the gap between the lift and the bus floor weren’t properly aligned. She also did not properly assist her in getting down, causing the woman’s chair to pitch forward as she tried to exit.

At that point, the woman was left hanging in her chair, secured only by a safety belt. The driver, contrary to procedure, released the safety belt, causing the plaintiff to come crashing to the ground.

The driver did not assist the plaintiff in getting up, nor did she contact emergency medical workers. Instead, she contacted her supervisor, as per the company policy. While waiting for supervisors, she covered the woman with a thin blanket, despite freezing temperatures.

When the supervisors arrived, they did contact emergency medical services, but did not convey any urgency of the situation, further delaying care. Meanwhile, the supervisors went about securing the scene in an effort to minimize their own liability. They shielded the driver from any inquiry. They photographed the scene. They instructed all employees not to admit or acknowledge any blame.

When EMS did finally arrive, it turned out the woman had suffered fractures to both of her legs. She was on the ground in “extraordinary pain.”

In addition to requiring a year of treatment in a nursing home, she became totally dependent on others to care for basic needs. She was unable to leave her home. This was in sharp contrast to her relatively active lifestyle.

She sued for negligence. The company conceded the driver was negligent in failing to follow training manuals for safe unloading of wheelchair passengers, but denied it had negligently supervised or hired the woman. Evidence was also presented indicating the driver was an alcoholic who was living in a rehabilitation center at the time she was hired.

While there was no evidence the driver had been under the influence of alcohol, she was not immediately tested, per procedure, and no police were called to the scene to conduct independent analysis of this fact.

The plaintiff sought to hold the transport company liable for its workers’ actions via the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Although the trial court denied the plaintiff’s request for punitive damages (those meant to punish the defendant), it did award her $4.2 million in compensation. No fault was apportioned to the plaintiff.

Both parties appealed – the plaintiff on the denial of punitive damages and the defendant on the $4.2 million verdict.

The state supreme court reversed on punitive damages, but affirmed on the compensatory damages. The court indicated the trial court hadn’t erred in admitting evidence of the driver’s past alcoholism, despite the company’s assertion that it was irrelevant because no causal connection had been established. The trial court said it went to the issue of credibility of the driver, as she had lied on her application regarding her substance abuse history.

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

Additional Resources:
MV Transp., Inc. v. Allgeier, June 19, 2014, Kentucky Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Hitesman v. Bridgeway, Inc. – Court Rules Against Nursing Home Whistleblower, June 28, 2014, Coral Springs Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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