A nursing home neglect lawsuit will head to circuit court after a state supreme court rejected the defense team’s petition for writ of mandamus to either dismiss the case or disqualify opposing counsel.
The judge in the case of Ridgeway Nursing & Rehabilitation Facility, LLC v. Circuit Court found that the nursing home defendants had enough judicial remedy that the plaintiff errors could be mitigated and so dismissal was not warranted.
At issue was the question of whether an investigator for the plaintiff counsel had improperly contacted employees of the nursing home in an attempt to interview them without the nursing home’s lawyers present. The plaintiff investigator contended he was merely trying to find out if those he was contacting still worked at the facility.
Either way, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the contact was improper, but not so severe that it irreparably damaged the nursing home’s ability to build a defense. Given the severity of the allegations, the court found, a dismissal could potentially deny justice to the plaintiff.
The litigation stemmed from one man’s inpatient stay at a nursing home facility following surgery. He was essentially confined to a wheelchair during this time. According to court documents, about one month before he was slated to leave the facility, the man fell out of his chair and suffered a neck injury.
Staffers at the facility responded to help him after another resident found him on the floor and called for help. One registered nurse and four nurse’s aides treated the man by helping him back in his wheelchair, cleaning the cut on his nose and performing regular neurological checks.
Later that day, the man began to complain of a pain in his neck. He was subsequently transported to the hospital, where it was discovered he had suffered from two fractured vertebrae in his neck.
Doctors at the hospital treated this condition with a device known as a “halo.” This is a type of metal brace that is fixed onto the skull by way of screws that help to keep the head and neck from moving. The patient was sent back to the nursing home to recover.
However, over the course of the following month, the various points where the screws were affixed to the patient’s skull became infected. This led to a brain infection and he endured several brain surgeries. He died about a month after the infection was first discovered.
His widow brought a lawsuit against the facility for wrongful death and nursing home neglect, saying his death could be attributed to the fall and the injuries he sustained as a resident of the facility.
In preparation for trial, both sides engaged in pretrial discovery. It was during this time that the investigator’s contact with the nursing home employees was revealed. Without question, the manner in which the investigator went about his job violated the state’s rules of professional conduct. However, the conversations resulted in minimal if any information that would have been considered beneficial to the plaintiff, as two told him they did not wish to further engage him after he revealed his identity. He reportedly terminated the conversation with a third employee himself after learning she still worked at the facility.
The court found that the nursing home would have grounds to file a motion to suppress with regard to any information obtained as a result of those conversations. However, dismissal of the entire case on these grounds was not warranted.
It is expected to be tried at the circuit level sometime early next year.
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Ridgeway Nursing & Rehabilitation Facility, LLC v. Circuit Court, Dec. 19, 2013, Supreme Court of Kentucky
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