In February 2011, Baker Donelson attorneys Barry Ford, Davis Frye and Brad Moody defended a nursing home client in a jury trial in Jackson, Mississippi. The plaintiff sued on behalf of his mother, a long-term resident of the nursing home.
Like many residents, at the time of her admission to the nursing home, the plaintiff’s mother had serious medical conditions that significantly compromised the nursing home’s ability to improve her physical and mental condition. Her end-stage dementia affected her ability to eat, drink and communicate. Her swallowing became more and more impaired, decreasing her ability to ingest necessary protein to help her body repair itself. In addition, perhaps predictably, as her condition deteriorated, her skin began to break down. She developed pressure sores on her buttocks and her heels, which became infected. As a result, a wound care physician recommended a below knee amputation to her family. However, before the decision was made to proceed with the procedure, the resident died at age 92 from pneumonia.
Although the plaintiff criticized almost every facet of his mother’s care, the trial team focused on the quality care provided to the resident by the facility team. From the director of nursing and the treatment nurses to the therapists and certified nursing assistants, the interdisciplinary team at the nursing home provided loving care and treatment to the resident. Physician orders were followed; medications were administered; treatments were performed; and the resident was regularly turned and repositioned. While the plaintiff argued that the resident’s condition was caused by a lack of care, the trial team successfully proved that the resident’s condition deteriorated notwithstanding the excellent care that she received. Even the plaintiff’s nurse expert conceded that there was nothing in the nursing home records that indicated that the staff was not trying their very best to provide quality care to the resident.
The jury listened closely to the evidence presented during the week-long trial and, in the end, determined that the nursing home was not negligent and did not cause the resident’s death. By returning a verdict for the nursing home, the jury determined that the plaintiff was entitled to no monetary damages whatsoever.
This case is representative of most of the nursing ome cases that we litigate. Certainly, no chart is perfect, and caregivers make mistakes at times that may necessitate a resolution before trial. However, we have found in our practice that nursing home staff members feel called to their profession. They are typically made up of good, quality health care professionals who believe in what they do and who work diligently to provide excellent care to their residents. By introducing a jury to these individuals and by educating a jury about the reality of commonly-experienced conditions like pressure sores, infections and dehydration, we have been able to tell the nursing home’s story persuasively, even when there are negative medical outcomes. It is this story that lead to the positive outcome at our recent trial.
Best Trial Practices:
- Focus on the individuals who care for the residents – the story the jury hears should be just as much about the caregivers as it is about the one receiving the care.
- Teach the jury about the many things the caregivers do everyday to make a resident’s life better, including those things caregivers don’t think to chart – the quick tidying of the room, the friendly banter with the resident - those things that good caregivers do to serve the person they’re caring for.
- Educate the jury about the reality of the aging process. Through expert witnesses, describe the physiological processes that occur as the human body naturally declines.
- Demonstrate compassion for the family through questioning techniques and demonstrate the compassion that the caregivers had for the resident.
Davis Frye is an attorney in the Jackson office.