After an eight-day jury trial and four hours of jury deliberations, a New Mexico malpractice jury returned its verdict for the plaintiff on January 22, 2019 in the amount of $5 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages. The defendant skilled nursing facility held itself out to the public as a post-acute, short-term rehabilitation facility for high-need patients. The plaintiff was unaware that the defendant had been in business since only July 2012 and had gone through four different administrators and four different directors of nursing in a one-year period.
The 88-year-old patient had fallen at home on June 23, 2013 and fractured her hip. She underwent an ORIF and was discharged two days later to the defendant rehab facility. She was at risk of developing pressure ulcers on her heels due to immobility, diabetes, and mild dementia. The defendant’s employee who did the interim plan of care within 48 hours of admission was not a nurse but she prepared a skin impairment plan of care because the patient had redness on her coccyx. Nonetheless, there was never a plan of care developed with regard to pressure ulcer prevention prior to the patient’s discharge on July 31, 2013.
When the patient’s son brought her home, the caregiver who had helped take care of his mother before her fall removed the woman’s TED hose and found two pressure injuries on both heels. Home health care arrived on August 2, 2013 and the wound nurse found the woman to have bilateral deep tissue injuries (DTIs) with necrosis. Home health care and wound care continued until September 3, 2013.
The woman was admitted to the hospital on September 3, 2013 and was diagnosed with an infected stage 4 pressure injury on her left heel, and with sepsis. The elderly woman developed metabolic encephalopathy that caused her to lose her ability to swallow. A PEG tube was inserted and stayed in her for the rest of her life. The woman was hospitalized for the next two months to treat the infection and try to rehab her right hip. She was finally discharged to home in December 2013.
The woman had become so deconditioned due to her hospitalization and treatment that she could not assist with transfers, bear weight, or walk. By mid-December, physical therapy recommended discontinuation of physical therapy services and recommended the use of a Hoyer lift. The woman’s bilateral pressure ulcers had healed by this time (although a left heel DTI developed in February 2014 but also healed). She received nutrition through the PEG for fourteen months. She died on May 26, 2015.
The New Mexico medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit alleged that due to the bilateral heel pressure injuries, the woman was never able to rehab from her fractured hip, became deconditioned and bedbound, and was highly susceptible to pneumonia and congestive heart failure. One of the plaintiff’s medical experts testified at trial that the photograph of the woman’s left heel that was taken by her son on August 1, 2013 showed a necrotic DTI and that the DTI would have been visible to the defendant’s staff at least four days earlier, and it would have been caused by sustained pressure approximately 48 hours earlier, when the record shows that she was not being turned and repositioned at the defendant’s facility.
The defendant’s highest settlement offer before trial was $375,000.
The plaintiff was represented by Milwaukee, Wisconsin attorney Jeffrey A. Pitman, Esquire, who graciously provided the narrative above.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in New Mexico or in another U.S. state due to nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, nursing home under-staffing, or the nursing home failing to properly care for a vulnerable adult, you should promptly find a nursing home claim lawyer in New Mexico or a nursing home claim lawyer 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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