The Court of Appeals of Georgia (“Georgia Appellate Court”), in its October 10, 2019 opinion, upheld a Georgia nursing home wrongful death verdict in the amount of $7.6M (20% of which the defendant nursing home is liable, resulting in the judgment entered against the defendant nursing home in the amount of $1,524,240). The jury allocated 80% of the fault to nonparties to the lawsuit.
The 71-year-old nursing home resident had symptoms consistent with a bowel obstruction during the night shift but the physician’s assistant to the nursing home’s medical director, who was called about the resident’s condition, failed to authorize the resident’s transfer to the hospital. By the time the resident was finally sent to the ER, it was too late – he died later that night from complications related to aspirating fecal material, a risk associated with bowel obstructions.
The plaintiff alleged that the defendant nursing home negligently failed to staff the October 25, 2012 night shift with someone who could have properly assessed the resident’s condition (i.e., a RN instead of LPNs who worked the night shift). The defendant nursing home argued on appeal that the staffing decision required professional nursing judgment, bringing the claim within the realm of professional negligence that had to be – but was not – supported by expert testimony.
The Georgia Appellate Court stated that the evidence showed that staffing decisions were made in collaboration with the facility administrator, who is responsible overall for the operation of the facility. The evidence further showed that RNs cost the facility more than LPNs because the hourly rate for an RN is greater than that for an LPN. The Georgia Appellate Court stated that the defendant nursing home cited no evidence that the overall determination regarding how many RNs were available for the Director of Nursing to schedule was made by a medical professional or constituted a medical decision, rather than a business decision based on the higher cost of paying RNs.
The Georgia Appellate Court stated that the evidence demonstrated that LPNs were not trained to assess the condition of residents such as the decedent, that the defendant nursing home routinely elected not to employ an RN on the night shift, and that nursing home residents “can get sick any time of the day or night.” The plaintiff also offered expert testimony that the delay in assessing the decedent caused his condition to progressively worsen, contributing to his suffering and the “downward quick spiral that . . . ultimately [led] to his death.” The Georgia Appellate Court held: “Given these circumstances, the evidence supported the conclusion that [the defendant nursing home] engaged in business-related ordinary negligence by forcing [the Director of Nursing] to choose only one shift in which to schedule an RN, leaving the night shift staff without anyone trained to adequately evaluate residents. Because this staffing claim did not sound in professional negligence, the trial court properly denied [the defendant nursing home’s] motion for directed verdict.”
Source Lowndes County Health Services, LLC v. Copeland, A19A1552, A19A1553.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in Georgia or in another U.S. state due to nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, nursing home understaffing, nursing home resident-on-resident attack, nursing home sexual abuse, nursing home rape, or the nursing home failing to properly care for a vulnerable adult, you should promptly find a nursing home claim lawyer in Georgia or in your state who may investigate your nursing home claim for you and file a nursing home claim on your behalf or behalf of your loved one, if appropriate.
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