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State Supreme Court ordered new trial after verdict for $5.1 million.

ON MAY 14, 2004, MINNIE VALENTINE SUFFERED A SEVERE STROKE. She was initially treated at St. Vincent's Hospital. Over a week later, she left the hospital and entered into the care of Little Rock Healthcare & Rehab (LRHC), a nursing care facility located in Little Rock. She was fully dependent on nursing care for her daily needs and entered LRHC with a feeding tube, a urinary tract infection, and a pressure sore on her coccyx. Despite treatment, Minnie's pressure sore did not heal. Further, she showed signs of dehydration and malnutrition. On June 10 she was admitted to Baptist Health Medical Center (Baptist) with pneumonia. Despite treatment from wound-care specialists, her pressure sore worsened. Baptist continued the basic nutrition plan initiated by LRHC. After two weeks at Baptist, she returned to LRHC on June 25. Her condition continued to decline and her pressure sore worsened. On July 6 nurses reported signs of infection related to the pressure sore to her physician. On July 7 she was readmitted to Baptist due to infection. Despite continuous treatment, the condition of the sore worsened. On August 11 she was discharged from Baptist and admitted to Quapaw Quarter Nursing Center and Rehab. There her general medical condition continued to decline. Despite receiving weekly treatments from wound-care specialists from Arkansas Heart Hospital. The sore on her coccyx worsened and additional pressure sores developed on her ankles and feet, which ultimately necessitated multiple amputations. Minnie died in February of 2005, seven months after her second discharge from LRHC. Her estate filed suit against Donald Bedell, the sole member of the governing body for LRHC, Heartland HC Services & Solutions and a myriad of others alleging claims for ordinary negligence, medical malpractice, violation of the Residents' Rights Act (Act), and felony neglect. Several claims were asserted against Quapaw, including a count for wrongful death based on allegations that Quapaw failed to provide appropriate care from August 11 until Minnie's death. One week before trial, the estate nonsuited its claims against Quapaw. Later, the claims against HC Services & Solutions, Claims Administrators of Arkansas, and Arkansas Health Care Holdings were voluntarily dismissed. The Circuit Court granted a directed verdict in favor of Bedell, LRHC, and Heartland on the felony-neglect claim. Following a jury trial, the jury returned a verdict, inter alia, for $5.1 million against LRHC, awarding $1.8 million in compensatory damages for ordinary negligence, $1.9 million in compensatory damages for medical negligence and $1.4 million for violation of the Act. Motions for new trials were denied. The defendants appealed.

THE SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS REVERSED THE JUDGMENT ENTERED BY THE CIRCUIT COURT. Accordingly, it entered judgment dismissing Bedell and remanded the case for a new trial on the claims against LRHC and Heartland. The court held, inter alia, that the Circuit Court erred.

THE COURT RECOGNIZED THE HEART OF THE CASE WAS WHETHER THE DECEDENT'S CAREGIVERS WERE NEGLIGENT IN TREATMENT OF HER PRESSURE SORE. The court went on to note that none of the defendants were, in fact, negligent in treating the pressure sore causing the pressure sore to worsen and ultimately lead to the several amputations and death of the patient. The court recognized that the primary defense of the defendants was that the patient's medical condition, and not any care or lack thereof, was the proximate cause of her pressure sores and declining health, all of which resulted in her death. Further, the court recognized that the defendants' contention that all of this could be found in the medical records from the months following the decedent's residency at LRHC, which showed that she continued to develop new pressure sores on her ankles and feet despite receiving care at another facility as well as wound treatments on a regular basis. The court concluded that the Circuit Court abused its discretion by excluding evidence, which was clearly relevant, and the exclusion was prejudicial to certain defendants so much so as to strip both LRHC and Heartland of their entire defense. On this issue alone, the court concluded that those defendants were entitled to a new trial because of prejudicial error. The court addressed the remaining points argued by the defendants on appeal to the extent that they were likely to arise in the new trial awarded to the defendants. This was relative to LRHC's and Heartland's contention that the Circuit erred by permitting the Estate's expert to testify as to the meaning of "dignity" as it was used it the Act because that was a word squarely within the common understanding of the average juror. The court rejected the estate's contention that the word dignity, as it appeared in the Act, was a "word of art" precisely because that word was within the understanding of the average juror. The court viewed the word "dignity" simply as a word, used in the Act, having no greater or lesser meaning than when used in the ordinary context by laypersons in general, and not having any special meaning as was testified to by the estate's expert witness, who interpreted the word to mean more than what it ordinarily means. Bedell v. Williams, 2012 Ark. 75-664 (2/23/2012)_S.W. 3.d_-AR

A. David Tammelleo JD Editor & Publisher
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Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Nursing Law's Regan Report
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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