Lawyer Resources for Dropped Patients

elderly-woman-in-wheelchair-300x179As a nursing home attorney, most of my cases fit cleanly within one category of negligence – bedsores, falls, elopement, medication errors or choking.  Recently, I feel like I may need to add ‘wheelchair accidents’ to the list of these primarily preventable and tragic situations.

Wheelchair accidents too common in the long-term care setting

When I say wheelchair incidents, I am referring to any of a number of situations where a patient harmed to a poor instruction or supervision on the part of the facility staff.  Examples of wheelchair incidents include:

Criminal Charges After Dropping a PatientUnfortunately, many suspicious acts involving injuries to nursing home patients get completely ignored by prosecutors primarily because (even in situations where they are notified about an incident) there is rarely enough evidence to prosecute the criminal act.  Even in situations where authorities are ‘tipped off’ the closed-door environment of nursing homes make these incidents particularly difficult to investigate as the evidence is rarely in the same condition as it was in at the time of the incident by the time authorities begin their fact finding process.

Senseless Injury To An Elderly Patient

On the other hand, sometimes these incidents are caught for what they truly are– abusive acts to elderly people. I just recently read about an incident that is all too common amongst nursing home patients— staff dropping a physically disabled patient as they attempt to transfer them into or out of their wheelchair or bed.  Commonly, these incidents result in serious injuries such as fractures or internal injuries to the patients when they fall from an elevated height in an awkward position.

Death as Result of Transfer From Wheelchair To BedMoving a patient from one device to another– or typically referred to as a ‘transfer’– is one of the most essential services a nursing home provides to immobile patients, yet it is also one of the most common sources of patient injury.

Transfers are deemed to be such an important part of patient care, that all patients must be assessed to determine the type of assistance the facility is to provide for the patient.

Particularly for immobile patients, the assistance of one, two or sometimes even three staff members may be necessary to safely move the patient to a wheelchair, bed or other device.  Unfortunately, even with the supervision of multiple staff members, transfers can easily result in a patient getting dropped or falling when the staff fail to act in concert or use proper lifting technique.

Nursing Home Playing DumbFollowing a two week trial and several hours of deliberations, a Kentucky jury has awarded the family of a deceased nursing home patient $8 million in damages for the errors made related to the care of the patient during an admission in 2008.  Categorically, the damages were apportioned: $2 million for pain and suffering, $1 million for violation of the Kentucky Nursing Home Statute and $5 million in punitive damages against the nursing home according to news reports in the Carrier-Journal.

Retired surgeon, Dr. David Griffin was admitted to Treyton Oak Towers in Louisville for care following a disabling stroke left him with impaired mobility.  Upon admission, the staff at the nursing home conducted an assessment of Dr. Griffin’s care needs and determined that required him to be transferred in-and-out of wheelchairs with the use of a lift and the assistance of two staff member.

Ignoring the requirements of the care plan relating to safe transfer protocols, one staff member at Treyton Oak Towers apparently attempted to move the patient on their own from a wheelchair to his bed.  During the transfer process, the patient was seemingly dropped fracturing both of the patient’s legs.

wheelchair lift.jpgRightfully so, under-staffing in nursing homes remains a significant threat to the health and safety of the vulnerable people who rely on staff for their care.

While many situations involving a patient injury may be suspected to be related to under-staffing, it frankly can be a difficult concept to establish specific staffing level requirements at nursing homes across the board because the needs may vary drastically from facility to facility.

One of the most identifiable problems I associate with under-staffing in nursing homes is when facilities simply do not supply enough to transfer immobile patients into or out of beds or wheelchairs.  Working on a number of cases involving patients whom have been simply ‘dropped’ by staff, I find that many of these cases involve patients who were attempted to be transferred without sufficient manpower for a safe transfer.

elderly bruise.jpgFrom a liability perspective, nursing home fall cases prove to be far more difficult than they may appear to be at first glance.

While nursing home must assess each patient for their propensity to fall and implement fall prevention accordingly— for some patients falls may occur even with safeguards in place.

We’ll save the discussion on nursing home fall precautions for another day– but what about how the facility handles the care post-fall?

The Chicago Tribune recently reported on a jury verdict where the family of a deceased nursing home patient was awarded $546,000 in a lawsuit brought against Friendship Manor Care in Grinnell (Iowa) and Midwest Ambulance Services of Iowa.

ManorCare LawsuitThe lawsuit was brought about by a 2009 incident in which an elderly patient was being brought out of the ManorCare facility and fell from a gurney due to cracks on the pathway on the nursing home property.

The fall resulted in the man striking his head on the pavement and lapsing into a coma from his head injuries.  Several days later the man died.

Inadequate maintenance of a lift is responsible for the death of a patient at Eskaton Care Center Manzanita (California).  The lift at issue is used to help staff transfer physically disabled patients into and out of their bed.

Death Related With Improper Maintenance Of Lift According to an investigation completed by the California Department of Health, the 60-year-old nursing home patient was being transported from a wheelchair to bed when the sling on the lifting device broke and causing the patient to fall to the floor and suffer a head injury which subsequently caused his death.

The agency determined that the nursing home failed to perform the appropriate maintenance on the machine as directed by the lift manufacturer.  As a result of the nursing homes omissions, it was issued a AA Citation and fined $100,000.

iStock_000001407601XSmallGiven the frequency (approximately 80+% of all nursing nursing home patients will experience a fall this coming year) with which nursing home falls occur, facilities must be on the lookout when it comes to implementing fall prevention techniques in order to improve patient safety.  Too often, the prevention comes too late– if at all.

Here are our most popular fall-related entries over the past year:

How Many Falls Is Enough To Impose Responsibility On Nursing Home?

iStock_000009158416XSmall1Many elderly people suffer broken bones during admissions to nursing homes due to; falls, being dropped, or perhaps improper care from staff.  Regardless how the fracture occurred, a fractured bone in the elderly must be timely identified and treated.

What is a fracture?

A fracture is a broken bone that requires medical attention. Fifty percent of women over age fifty and twenty-five percent of men over age fifty will suffer from an age-related bone fracture sometime in their lifetime.

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