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Atterholt v. Robinson (872 N.E. 2d 633)

Indiana-nursing-home-neglect-elderly-woman-200x300Articles: Indiana

Atterholt v. Robinson (872 N.E. 2d 633)

CASE:
Atterholt v. Robinson (872 N.E. 2d 633)
PARTIES:
Plaintiff (Appellee) – Robinson, Personal Representative of the Estate of Irene Gray (deceased)
Defendant (Appellant) – Atterholt, Commissioner of Insurance of Indiana
COURT:
Court of Appeals of Indiana (2007)
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Following the settlement of a medical malpractice suit between Robinson and North Woods Village, a nursing home that housed the deceased, the estate filed petition seeking excess damages from the Patient Compensation Fund of Indiana. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the estate. The Fund appealed.
SUMMARY OF FACTS:
Irene Gray was moved from an assisted living facility to North Woods Village, a more restrictive nursing facility in February 2003. Initially the care at North Woods was good, however, Gray’s family started noticing a decline in care. Irene’s fingernails and toenails were not being groomed and, on one occasion, Irene appeared to have feces under her nails. On February, 1, 2004, the North Woods staff put Irene to bed for a nap but did not dress her in the adult brief that she always wore. While Irene was napping she urinated and some of the urine spilled onto the floor. When Irene woke up and stepped out of bed she slipped and hit her head on her nightstand. Irene laid on the floor for an undetermined amount of time before she was discovered by North Woods staff. Irene was eventually transferred to the hospital where she had staples put in her head to close the gash. It was also later discovered that Irene had broken her hip in the fall. On February 3, Irene had hip surgery and was returned to North Woods on February 7. Shortly after Irene returned to the nursing home she developed pressure ulcers which worsened over the next few months. By July 14, Irene’s wounds were classified as Stage IV, the most sever classification of pressure ulcers. At this stage the affected area decays to the point of exposing muscle and bone. Irene’s family was not alerted of the severity of Irene’s condition until July 27. On July 29, 2004, Irene was moved to another nursing facility where she did begin to recover, but on September 24, 2004, Irene died. The total medical bills attributable to Irene’s fractured hip and resulting pressure ulcers came to $95,878.22.

On December 21, 2004, Irene’s estate filed a proposed complaint against North Woods with the Indiana Department of Insurance. The complaint alleged breach of contract, negligence, and wrongful death.

 

In May of 2006, the parties reached a settlement by which North Woods would pay the estate $250,000 (the policy maximum), and the estate would have the right to pursue the collection of damages in excess of $250,000 from the Fund pursuant to the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. The settlement released North Woods from all of the estate’s claims but did not specify whether the damages were awarded pursuant to the Adult Wrongful Death Statute (“AWDS”) or the Survival Act.

 

 

OUTCOME AT TRIAL:
The trial court held that under the Survival Act, the plaintiff estate was entitled to $1,250,000 in damages.
ISSUES ON APPEAL:
1) Was the trial court was correct in awarding excess damages under the Survival Act, rather than under the Wrongful Death Statutes?2) Was the award of $1,250,000 excessive?

 

SUPREME COURT HOLDINGS:
1)     Yes2)     No
RELEVANT APPLICATION OF LAW:
“A damage award is not excessive unless the amount cannot be explained upon any basis other than prejudice, passion, partiality, corruption, or some other improper element.”- Zambrana v. Armenta, 819 N.E.2d 881, 890

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