In its unpublished written opinion filed on December 6, 2017, the State of Louisiana Court of Appeal, Third Circuit (“Louisiana Appellate Court”) held that the trial court had erred by granting summary judgment to the defendant nursing home in a Louisiana nursing home negligence lawsuit filed by the son of a 94-year-old nursing home resident who had a history of at least 27 falls while a resident of the nursing home and who died after her last fall in the nursing home.
The Underlying Facts
The nursing home resident suffered at least 27 falls while she was a resident of the defendant nursing home, although most of her falls did not result in injury. As a result of her fall history, the resident was placed on a fall prevention protocol several times, on an on-and-off basis: after falls, she was placed on fall interventions, such as a toileting protocol, which interventions were modified or removed later. She was also instructed not to attempt to use the restroom by herself, though she frequently did so anyway.
On April 17, 2014, the resident attempted to use a hall restroom by herself. She slipped while transferring from her wheelchair and struck her head. The fall caused a break in an odontoid and C1 fracture, as well as a concussion. She died on May 8, 2014, as a result of complications from her fall. The defendant nursing home began locking all common area restrooms after the resident’s final fall.
The resident’s son filed a Louisiana nursing home negligence claim, alleging that the defendant nursing home failed to properly supervise his mother and prevent her fall. The claim was presented to a medical review panel, whose opinion simply made a blanket assertion that the actions named by the plaintiff’s expert were optional interventions that were not a required standard of care. The trial court adopted the medical review panel’s opinion, finding that the evidence presented showed no violations of federal or state regulations and that the plaintiff failed to produce factual support for one or more elements essential to his claim, and therefore granted summary judgment to the defendant nursing home. The plaintiff appealed.
The Plaintiff’s Nursing Expert’s Affidavit
The plaintiff’s nurse expert submitted an affidavit in which she set forth the general duties that a resident environment remains as free of accident hazards as possible and that residents require adequate supervision, which she noted as providing interventions to mitigate the risk of accidents. The expert’s affidavit cited several actions that the defendant nursing home should have taken to mitigate the resident’s obvious fall risk: the defendant nursing home should have provided visual indication on the resident’s wheelchair that she was an increased fall risk with a star or leaf, as per the nursing home’s own policy, that would have allowed all nurses in the facility to know of the increased danger of falls for the resident (the nurse who found the resident after her fall testified in her deposition that no one indicated to her that the resident required increased supervision, and that nurses had no way of knowing if a resident was at risk for falls without the star or leaf sticker indication on their wheelchairs, although the resident had already fallen 27 times prior to the last incident); all of the defendant nursing home’s personnel should be aware of residents who are at risk for falls (additionally, the defendant nursing home’s fall prevention policy lists chair alarms as possible interventions); an alarm or a wheelchair lap belt should have been used to prevent falls or alert nurses to attempts by the resident to transfer out of her wheelchair without the required assistance (no such alarm was in use at the time of the resident’s last fall); and, many of the resident’s falls from slipping out of her wheelchair could have been prevented with pommel or antithrust pillows or a self releasing lap belt.
The Louisiana Appellate Court held that the plaintiff’s expert’s affidavit sufficiently sets forth a standard of care required of the defendant nursing home and clearly states that she believed that the defendant nursing home breached that standard. As there was clearly conflicting expert evidence, the Louisiana Appellate Court held that a genuine issue of material fact exists in this case as to the required standard of care, the trial court erroneously made credibility determinations by weighing the conflicting evidence, and therefore summary judgment in favor of the defendant nursing home was inappropriate.
Source Domingue v. Louisiana Guest House, LLC, d/b/a Camelot of Broussard, CA 17-633
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in Louisiana or in another U.S. state due to nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, or a fall, you should promptly contact a local nursing home claim attorney in your U.S. state who may investigate your nursing home claim for you and file a nursing home claim on your behalf, if appropriate.
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