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Mueller v. Elderwood Health Care at Oakwood (2011 WL 1366292 (N.Y.Sup.))

New-York-elderly-woman-nursing-home-abuse-300x200Articles: New York

Mueller v. Elderwood Health Care at Oakwood (2011 WL 1366292 (N.Y.Sup.))

CASE:
Mueller v. Elderwood Health Care at Oakwood (2011 WL 1366292 (N.Y.Sup.))
PARTIES:
Plaintiff (Appellee) – Kathleen Mueller, Administratrix of the Estate of Natalie Druzbik (deceased)
Defendant (Appellant) – Elderwood Health Care at Oakwood
COURT:
Supreme Court of New York (2011)
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Plaintiff filed a negligence action against the defendant nursing home stemming from the care provided to Natalie Druzbik leading up to and allegedly causing her death. After a trial, a jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff awarding damages. Defendant filed a motion setting aside the jury verdict
SUMMARY OF FACTS:

Kathleen Mueller is the daughter of Natalie Druzbik (deceased). Druzbik had been a resident of Oakwood since March of 2004. She remained there until her death in February of 2006 at age 84. Druzbik suffered from a number of significant health problems including diabetes which led to the amputation of her leg, as well as atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure and effects from a previous stroke.

Because of her atrial fibrillation, Druzbik was on the blood thinning drug Coumadin. Coumadin requires strict monitoring of the clotting properties of the blood through PT/INT  testing (“INR”). The therapeutic range for Druzbik’s INR levels was between a 2 and a 3 with anything below a 2 indicating that the blood was too thick and with anything above a 3 indicating that the blood was too thin. While at Oakwood, the staff measured INR levels through a combination of the use of a bedside device (INR Device) and laboratory venous blood draws.

At the time of Druzbik’s death, her attending physician had ordered that her INR levels be checked twice per week. It is undisputed that the venous blood draw is the most superior means of testing INR levels. It is also the defendant’s written policy to require a physician’s order to use the INR device as opposed to a laboratory venous blood draw. Oakwood did not follow this policy and routinely used the INR device to test Druzbik’s INR levels. Druzbik’s physician, Dr. Eubanks, was aware of the use of the INR device.

On February 14, 2006, Druzbik began bleeding from her mouth and nose. Her blood was tested by the INR device and registered at 1.2. She was sent to the emergency room and was admitted with Coumadin toxicity. Her INR level was tested through a laboratory venous blood draw and revealed a level of 12.87 (compared to the 1.2 level read by the INR device a short while before).

Over the next few hours, Druzbik suffered significant bleeding. Mueller eventually agreed with the doctor’s recommendation to place Druzbik  on comfort measures to reduce her pain and allow her to die peacefully. Witnesses say Druzbik still suffered immense pain, constantly moaning and gagging on her own blood. Druzbik ultimately died on February 17, 2006. Her cause of death was listed as congestive heart failure due to a consequence of rapid irregular heartbeat, atrial fibrillation and nose bleed.

OUTCOME AT TRIAL:

The jury awarded Plaintiff $250,000 for pain and suffering, including loss of enjoyment of life, $150,000 for injuries caused by a lack of reasonable care, and $200,000 pursuant to New York Public Health Law (“PHL”) § 2801-d), finding there was a willful or reckless disregard of Druzbik’s lawful rights as a nursing home resident.

ISSUES ON APPEAL:

1)     Was the verdict contrary to the weight of the evidence?

2)     Was the court’s decision to preclude defendant’s evidence of a comparative INR study prejudicial to the defendants?

3)     Were Plaintiff’s comments during closing arguments relating to defendant’s use of the INR device for financial gain improper, prejudicial or contradictory to a pre- trial order?

4)     Was the verdict excessive?

5)     Was the awarding of punitive damages supported by the facts?

SUPREME COURT HOLDINGS:

1)     No

2)     No

3)     No

4)     No

5)     Yes

RELEVANT APPLICATION OF LAW:
In cases involving conflicting medical testimony, the jury has the power to resolve the conflicts.

“A jury faced with conflicting expert testimony is entitled to accept the theory that, in its view, best explains the point in issue and is supported by the evidence.

  • Hall v. Prestige Remodeling & Home Repair Serv., 192 A.D.2d 1098 (4th Dept. 1993)

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