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Jones v. Mariner Health Care of Deland, Inc. (955 So.2d 43)

elderly-woman-Florida-nursing-home-abuse-211x300-211x3001Articles: Florida

Jones v. Mariner Health Care of Deland, Inc. (955 So.2d 43)

CASE:
Jones v. Mariner Health Care of Deland, Inc. (955 So.2d 43)
PARTIES:
Plaintiff (Appellee) – Estate of Clara Jones (Deceased)
Defendant (Appellant) – Mariner Health Care of Deland, Inc.
COURT:
Court of Appeals of Florida (2007)
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

The Estate of Clara Jones, a nursing home resident, filed suit against Mariner, the owner and operator of the facility in which Clara was a resident, alleging common law negligence and violation of the Nursing Home Resident’s Act. The trial court entered a direct verdict to the defendants. Plaintiff appealed.

SUMMARY OF FACTS:

Clara Jones entered into the nursing home in 1998 at age 86 for rehabilitation after hip surgery. At the time she was admitted, she had a very large stage IV decubitus ulcer, was suffering from dementia, and needed assistance with her daily activities. She had limited mobility and needed assistance with toileting.

Clara was however, expected to rehabilitate. On June 15, 2001, Clara suffered a brown, watery emesis (vomit). No doctor was contacted because the staff felt it was an isolated incident. On June 30, 2001, Jones suffered another brown emesis. At the time, Clara had been eating well and having bowel movements.  The emesis was tested for blood and blood was found.

Dr. Alstott was called and he instructed that Jones was to go to the hospital immediately. Dr. Capulong was called to consult at the hospital. He found contractures in Clara’s hips and knees. He then performed a colonoscopy in which he found a massive fecal impaction the size of a football. Clara recovered well from surgery and was released on July 10, 2001. Clara then moved into another nursing facility where she died a year and a half later on January 26, 2003.

Prior to her death, Clara filed a suit against Mariner, through her daughter as guardian. In the suit, Clara alleged that Mariner failed to provide adequate and appropriate health care, resulting in contractures and a fecal impaction that required surgery.  Clara died before trial, so it became necessary for her personal representative to continue the lawsuit.

Shortly before the trial commenced, the Florida Supreme Court ruled on a case in which it interpreted a statute restricting a personal representative from bringing a claim under the 1997 version of section 400.023(1) when the alleged violation did not cause the resident’s death.

Mariner then moved to strike all of the claims under the Act.

OUTCOME AT TRIAL:

The trial court ruled that since the alleged negligence by Mariner did not cause Clara’s death, any action brought by the personal representative would be restricted to allegations that occurred after May 15, 2001, the day the legislature amended section 400.023(1). Therefore, Clara’s negligence claims were restricted to the time period between October 14, 1998, and May 15, 2001. Since Clara entered the hospital on June 15, 2001 and did not return, this greatly affected her complaint.

ISSUES ON APPEAL:

Did the trial court err in limiting the Estate’s claim under the Act to infringements that occurred after May 15, 2001?

SUPREME COURT HOLDINGS:
Yes
RELEVANT APPLICATION OF LAW:
“Nowhere does the Legislature state or express its intention that a personal representative be prohibited from MAINTAINING a suit previously filed by the patient or guardian of a patient who dies during the pendency of the litigation.Because the personal representative did not initiate the lawsuit, the requirement placed upon personal representatives to show a statutory violation as the cause of death does not apply.

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