A retired surgeon who was in his mid-80s was being cared for by a nursing assistant who was supposed to use a lifting device to transfer the man from a chair to his bed but failed to do so. As a result of the nursing assistant’s failure to use the proper procedure for the man’s transfer, the man allegedly suffered two broken legs but the nursing assistant allegedly never told anybody. The medical malpractice claim included an allegation that employees were told to falsify the medical records to hide what had happened.
The retired surgeon was unable to tell anyone what had happened to him or how much pain he was in because he had previously suffered a stroke that severely limited his ability to communicate with others. Once the man’s broken legs were finally discovered, he was transferred to a hospital for medical treatment. He was then discharged to another nursing home, where he died less than two months after he was injured.
The defendants alleged that two nursing assistants were transferring the man and that no one was told to falsify any records. The attorney for the defendants was unable to explain how the man’s legs were fractured. The defendants blamed the man’s condition on his severe osteoporosis and the failure of the doctors to inform them of the man’s condition.
The man’s care plan required that two assistants be involved with his transfers and that a lift be used for transfers, which the medical malpractice claim alleged was not done and led to the man suffering his two broken legs.
The trial of the medical malpractice case lasted two weeks before a Kentucky jury took about two hours to return its verdict on February 13, 2012 in favor of the estate of the man in the amount of $8 million, which included $2 million for the man’s pain and suffering, $1 million for violation of the Kentucky nursing home statute, and $5 million in punitive damages.
The amount of the jury’s pain and suffering award appears to be related to the severe pain that the man suffered in silence for a considerable period of time due to his inability to communicate with others and the failure of the nursing assistant(s) to tell anyone what had happened. The large punitive damages award may be based on the jury’s apparent finding that the employees were instructed to falsify the man’s medical records. The jury apparently believed that the elderly, vulnerable man’s mistreatment was extreme and involved a cover-up.
Large jury verdicts serve a most important purpose in medical malpractice cases — they serve to put negligent medical providers on notice that mistreatment or improper treatment of vulnerable patients will not be tolerated, especially when the patients are unable to defend for themselves or act as their own advocates due to their age or their infirmities.
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