On March 25, 2014, the Court of Appeals of the State of Mississippi (“Appeals Court”) granted a new trial to the defendant nursing home that was held responsible for a wrongful death verdict in the amount of $1,213,300 (the amount of the verdict was reduced to $513,300 pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 11-1-60(2)(a), which limits noneconomic damages awarded to plaintiffs in certain health-care actions to $500,000).
The Plaintiffs had claimed that the nursing home’s poor care had caused the death of a family member by allowing her to become severely dehydrated. The Plaintiffs alleged that the woman’s severe dehydration meant that nothing that could be done to treat her when she was transferred to the hospital.
The defendant nursing home argued that the family’s decision to withhold medical treatment from the woman at the hospital was an intervening cause that broke the causal chain of the nursing home’s negligence. However, the trial judge ruled that any evidence concerning the decision by the family to withhold treatment from their relative was inadmissible, including her status as a DNR [Do Not Resuscitate] patient.
The Appeals Court held, “We find reversible error with the trial court’s exclusion of evidence about the family’s withholding certain medical treatment from [their relative] while at [the hospital], which impacted substantial rights of [the defendant nursing home] to present its version of the case … Here, one of [the defendant nursing home’s] primary contentions is that the family’s decision to refuse certain medical care was also relevant to mitigation of damages. A plaintiff ‘is required to take reasonable steps to mitigate his damages’ … This legal principle ‘deals not with the conduct of a plaintiff contributing to his injury, but with his failure to avoid the consequences of his injury after it has been inflicted, to avoid or diminish the damages resulting from his injury’ … The family’s refusal of treatment was relevant to the issue of whether Plaintiffs failed to mitigate their damages. The trial court abused its discretion in prohibiting the evidence for this purpose.”
With regard to the issue of the admissibility of the DNR status of the nursing home resident, the Appeals Court stated, “At trial, Plaintiffs claimed that [the nursing home’s] alleged medical negligence was the sole proximate cause of [their relative’s] death. Thus, the family’s refusal of certain medical care was relevant to the issue of causation. It was error for the trial court to prohibit the jury from hearing that the family withheld vasopressors and fluids from [the woman], especially since … [the] physician expert would have testified that these treatments usually resolve hypovolemic shock caused by dehydration, which is the diagnosis he gave [the woman]. Since the jury was charged with determining the cause of [the woman’s] death, it should have been allowed to consider whether the refusal of these treatments contributed to her death.”
Manhattan Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, LLC v. Bridget Pace, Individually, and Lillie Davis McGee Butler, Individually, and as Co-Executrices for the Estate of Mable J. Allen and on Behalf of the Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Mable J. Allen, Deceased. No. 2012-CA-00025-COA.
Click here to read the Appeals Court opinion.
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