Fact Pattern: Georgia Iris Jones had just celebrated her 100th Birthday. She was physically frail but still had an engaged mind and opinions of her own making. She was expected to return home after short-term rehab at the nursing home. The life expectancy table estimated Iris had a fraction over two years left. Little did anyone know, but her life would end in less than another two months, and all because of nursing home neglect.
The course of her last weeks were as follows:
After recovering from a severe case of bronchitis and a bout of the flu, she had been admitted for a 30 day stay at the nursing home near her church. The plan was to deliver IV antibiotics as well to get her physical and occupational therapy until she regained her strength. She improved steadily for her first several days but an unnoticed change in staffing levels was implemented to cut labor costs. The nursing home rehab unit had less scheduled staff than needed to provide optimal care. Iris would be ignored after her morning rehab and until her children arrived after work. She would sit in first the bed then her chair for long stretches. The constant pressure caused her skin breakdown without the families knowledge initially.
Improper wound care resulted in worsening pressure ulcers, and finally, the nursing staff advised the family of her increasingly precarious medical condition. Iris comprehended her predicament until the infection led to delirium. She became incontinent. While she was heavily medicated, Iris spent more time on her backside. The wounds became necrotic and infected. The infection spread from the wound into the blood stream, which caused septic shock and thereby her final breath.
Georgia Iris Jones was blessed to have lived a long and happy life. But, there is now expert medical testimony leaving no reasonable doubt that some measure of her “long and happy” was taken prematurely. Her suffering over weeks in ICU because of the failure to act reasonably and to deliver the critical medical care that the nursing home was paid to do. The family’s grief while watching her die at hospice cut as deep as it does for any loving son or daughter, grandchild or sibling who watches a loved one suffer and then die.
Her daughter contacts a lawyer. She and her brother meet with him. They feel responsible for having allowed her to have been placed at the facility (even though it came by way of hospital referral). In addition to the misplaced guilt, there is the heartache for those future memories missed, an upcoming wedding and a family vacation: Not to mention birthdays and cook-outs. The hospital bills totaled $70,000.
The lawyer advises the family of the risks, costs, and limitations, but they want to hold the nursing home chain responsible. An estate is opened. Experts consulted. Records Reviewed. Lawsuit filed.
What’s your verdict?
So, was Iris too old to have a viable claim for the manner of death and the years took from her loved ones? Is the value of her life diminished or enhanced by the life expectancy table that estimates hers to be 2 years? Should the damages be capped in this situation? How old is too old?
Under the law, the estate would have two types of claims. First, Iris’ estate has a survival claim consisting of her pain and suffering before her death, medical bills, funeral expenses, etc. Second, the children have wrongful death claims for their grief, loss of companionship — the lost together-time. If it is proven that the nursing home caused Iris Jones death because of its neglect, what should be the range of damages to her children under consideration for compensating the (1) survival claim and (2) wrongful death claim?
What say you?