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Alzheimer's patient with broken hip languishes untreated for 8 hours.

ON MAY 9, 2001, ANNA MELANCON WAS A PATIENT AT STONEBRIDGE CONVALESCENT CENTER, A NURSING FACILITY. On that date she was injured, when a Stonebridge employee ran into her with a metal food cart and knocked her down. The patient received no medical attention for 8 to 10 hours after the incident, when she was x-rayed and found to have a broken hip and required surgical and postsurgical therapy. Subsequently, her health deteriorated. She brought suit against Stonebridge. By the time of trial, approximately two years after the accident, the patient was unable to walk, was confined to bed and/or geriatric chair, and suffered repeated decubitus ulcers. The case was tried at a bench trial over a course of two separate days. At the start of the trial, Stonebridge stipulated as to liability. Hence, the only issue before the court was damages. The patient sought special damages for medical bills totalling $261,285 and general damages for her hip injury, for her physical problems that developed later, and for the decubitus ulcers. The patient presented testimony from her daughter/curator, Judy Thibodeaux, and four physicians. The parties presented a number of joint exhibits consisted mostly of voluminous medical records. Stonebridge called no witnesses. On May 12, 2003, the trial court issued a judgment in favor of Melancon with incorporated reasons for judgment. The court awarded Melancon damages in the amount of $236,632, consisting of $150,000 for general damages and $85,632 for special damages. In addition, the court found that Melancon was entitled to attorneys' fees, including interest on the attorneys' fees. The court awarded $70,000 for attorneys' fees and costs, without itemization. The court rejected Melancon's claims for special damages for hospitalization in September 2002 and January 2003 as well as her claims for general damages for decubitus ulcers. The court found that Melancon failed to show a "causal relationship" between those incidents and the May 9, 2001, accident, which was the basis of this suit. Melancon appealed.

THE COURT OF APPEAL OF LOUISIANA AMENDED THE JUDGMENT OF THE LOWER COURT AND REAFFIRMED THE JUDGMENT, AS AMENDED. The court held, inter alia, that there can be, and frequently is, more than one cause of a particular injury. A party's conduct is a cause in-fact of harm to another whenever it is a "substantial factor" in bringing about that harm. The court noted that with respect to the amount of damages awarded, the applicable standard is not manifest error but abuse of discretion. The discretion vested in the trier of fact is "great" and even vast, so that an appellate court should rarely disturb an award of general damages. Reasonable persons frequently disagree about the measure of general damages in a particular case. It is only when the award is, in either direction, beyond that which a reasonable trier of fact could assess for the effects of the injury to the plaintiff under the particular circumstances that the appellate court should increase or reduce the award.

THE COURT CONCLUDED THAT THE TRIAL JUDGE WAS CLEARLY WRONG IN BASING THE GENERAL DAMAGE AWARD ON HIS BELIEF THAT THE PATIENT HAD MADE A "REMARKABLE RECOVERY." The patient did not make a remarkable recovery! Rather, from the time of the accident, her condition began to spiral downward. As the trial judge noted, the patient's preexisting Alzhimer's Disease and other preexisting conditions make it impossible to prove her subsequent problems were solely the result of the accident which was the basis for the suit. Nevertheless, it is well established that "a defendant takes his victim as finds him and is responsible for all natural and probable consequences for his tortious conduct." The court noted that at the trial of this case, the patient was not able to speak for herself to describe her injuries or to inform the court of the pain she suffers and the disability that remained and increased after her surgery. The court observed that she is part of that growing portion of our populous sliding into a deepening twilight in their last years, those for whom others must be their mouthpieces. Locked within their own minds, these citizens--our grandparents, our parents, some day ourselves--must depend on others to sense the needs they cannot express for themselves. Confused and sometimes agitated, in their minds their world is different from our reality. They must rely on others to interpret their sometimes contradictory, sometimes bizarre behavior, and they need others to protect them. Accordingly the court concluded that the trial court erred in holding that the patient's "downward spiral" could not be effectively proven to have a causal link to the accident in question. The court observed, none of the physicians who testified said or even implied that the patient had recovered from her injury. Thibodeaux v. Stonebridge, 2004 WL894846 So.2d--LA

Meet the Editor & Publisher: A. David Tammelleo, JD, is a nationally recognized authority oh health care law. Practicing law for over 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Providence, R.I., firm of A. David Tammelleo & Associates. He has presented seminars on medical, nursing and hospital law throughout the United States. In addition to his writings as Editor of Medical Law's, Nursing Law's & Hospital Law's Reagan Reports, his legal articles have been published in the most prestigious health law journals. A prolific writer, his thousands of articles, as well as his achievements as an attorney and lecturer, have won him recognition in Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of preeminent Lawyers, Marquis Who's who in American Law, and Who's Who in America.
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Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Nursing Law's Regan Report
Date:May 1, 2004
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