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Carolinas Verdicts

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Nursing home negligence led to wrongful deaths: lawsuit

Amount:

$5,221,817.48

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

North Carolina

Venue:

Federal

Court:

U.S. District Court, Eastern District

Injury Type(s):

other-death

Case Type:

Wrongful Death; Medical Malpractice; Nursing Homes - Abuse or Neglect, Medication Management

Case Name:

Geraldine L. VanDevender administrator of the Estate of Del Ray Baird, deceased, and Jacqueline Ann Baird, deceased; Norwood R. Jones co-executor of the Estate of Elizabeth J. Jones; Lisa J. Pate co-executor of the Estate of Elizabeth J. Jones; Joyce K. Harrison administrator of the Estate of Bettie Mae Kee, deceased; Ralph D. Jones, Jr. co-executor of the Estate of Elizabeth J. Jones, deceased; Samuel Kee, Sr.; and Joyce K. Harrison administrator of the Estate of Samuel Kee, Sr., deceased v. Blue Ridge of Raleigh, LLC d/b/a Blue Ridge Health Care Center, Raleigh Regional Rehab Center, LLC d/b/a Crabtree Valley Rehab Center, Care Virginia Management, LLC d/b/a CareVirginia, Care One, LLC d/b/a CareOne, and NC Management Holdings, LLC, No. 5:14-cv-00150-BO

Date:

February 16, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Lisa J. Pate , 

Samuel Kee, Sr. , 

Norwood R. Jones , 

Joyce K. Harrison (Female), 

Ralph D. Jones, Jr. (Male), 

Estate of Del Ray Baird (Male, 75 Years), 

Estate of Bettie Mae Kee (Female, 80 Years), 

Geraldine L. VanDevender (Female), 

Estate of Samuel Kee, Sr. , 

Estate of Elizabeth J. Jones (Female, 76 Years), 

Estate of Jacqueline Ann Baird (Female, 70 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Rachel A. Fuerst; Henson & Fuerst, P.A.; Raleigh, NC, for Lisa J. Pate, Samuel Kee, Sr., Norwood R. Jones, Joyce K. Harrison, Ralph D. Jones, Jr., Estate of Del Ray Baird, Estate of Bettie Mae Kee, Geraldine L. VanDevender, Estate of Samuel Kee, Sr., Estate of Elizabeth J. Jones, Estate of Jacqueline Ann Baird ■ Thomas W. Henson Jr.; Henson & Fuerst, P.A.; Rocky Mount, NC, for Lisa J. Pate, Samuel Kee, Sr., Norwood R. Jones, Joyce K. Harrison, Ralph D. Jones, Jr., Estate of Del Ray Baird, Estate of Bettie Mae Kee, Geraldine L. VanDevender, Estate of Samuel Kee, Sr., Estate of Elizabeth J. Jones, Estate of Jacqueline Ann Baird ■ Carmaletta L. Henson; Henson & Fuerst, P.A.; Raleigh, NC, for Lisa J. Pate, Samuel Kee, Sr., Norwood R. Jones, Joyce K. Harrison, Ralph D. Jones, Jr., Estate of Del Ray Baird, Estate of Bettie Mae Kee, Geraldine L. VanDevender, Estate of Samuel Kee, Sr., Estate of Elizabeth J. Jones, Estate of Jacqueline Ann Baird

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Kate Cogan; R.N.C.; Standards of Care; Vilas, NC called by: Rachel A. Fuerst, Thomas W. Henson Jr., Carmaletta L. Henson ■ Lisa Lowe; MHA; Policies & Procedures; Estherville, IA called by: Rachel A. Fuerst, Thomas W. Henson Jr., Carmaletta L. Henson ■ Mark Bernat; M.D. JD; Nursing Home Medical Practice; Rocky Mount, NC called by: Rachel A. Fuerst, Thomas W. Henson Jr., Carmaletta L. Henson ■ Susan Johnson; RT; Respiratory Therapy; Evans, GA called by: Rachel A. Fuerst, Thomas W. Henson Jr., Carmaletta L. Henson ■ Victoria Fierro; C.P.A.; Accounting (Forensic); Tallahassee, FL called by: Rachel A. Fuerst, Thomas W. Henson Jr., Carmaletta L. Henson

Defendant(s):

Care One LLC, 

Blue Ridge of Raleigh LLC, 

NC Management Holdings LLC, 

Care Virginia Management LLC, 

Raleigh Regional Rehab Center LLC

Defense Attorney(s):

Gregory W. Brown; Brown Law LLP; Raleigh, NC, for Care One LLC, Blue Ridge of Raleigh LLC, NC Management Holdings LLC, Care Virginia Management LLC, Raleigh Regional Rehab Center LLC ■ Allison Cohan; Brown Law LLP; Raleigh, NC, for Care One LLC, Blue Ridge of Raleigh LLC, NC Management Holdings LLC, Care Virginia Management LLC, Raleigh Regional Rehab Center LLC ■ Eric R. Martinson; Brown Law LLP; Raleigh, NC, for Care One LLC, Blue Ridge of Raleigh LLC, NC Management Holdings LLC, Care Virginia Management LLC, Raleigh Regional Rehab Center LLC ■ Joel F. Bronstein; Brown Law LLP; Raliegh, NC, for Care One LLC, Blue Ridge of Raleigh LLC, NC Management Holdings LLC, Care Virginia Management LLC, Raleigh Regional Rehab Center LLC ■ Kristi Lyn Gavalier; Brown Law LLP; Raleigh, NC, for Care One LLC, Blue Ridge of Raleigh LLC, NC Management Holdings LLC, Care Virginia Management LLC, Raleigh Regional Rehab Center LLC ■ Catherine R. Hilkey-Boyatt; Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, LLP; Raleigh, NC, for NC Management Holdings LLC, Raleigh Regional Rehab Center LLC

Defendant Expert(s):

Garry Kauffman; Respiratory Therapy; Walnut Cove, NC called by: Gregory W. Brown, Allison Cohan, Eric R. Martinson, Joel F. Bronstein, Kristi Lyn Gavalier, Catherine R. Hilkey-Boyatt ■ Janis Martin; Geriatrics; Raleigh, NC called by: Gregory W. Brown, Allison Cohan, Eric R. Martinson, Joel F. Bronstein, Kristi Lyn Gavalier, Catherine R. Hilkey-Boyatt ■ Peter Kusin; Pulmonary/Respiratory Diseases; Durham, NC called by: Gregory W. Brown, Allison Cohan, Eric R. Martinson, Joel F. Bronstein, Kristi Lyn Gavalier, Catherine R. Hilkey-Boyatt ■ Joseph Govert; Standards of Care; Durham, NC called by: Gregory W. Brown, Allison Cohan, Eric R. Martinson, Joel F. Bronstein, Kristi Lyn Gavalier, Catherine R. Hilkey-Boyatt ■ Robert Kulesher; Nursing Home Administration; Greenville, NC called by: Gregory W. Brown, Allison Cohan, Eric R. Martinson, Joel F. Bronstein, Kristi Lyn Gavalier, Catherine R. Hilkey-Boyatt ■ Robert Shevelle; Life Expectancy & Mortality; San Francisco, CA called by: Gregory W. Brown, Allison Cohan, Eric R. Martinson, Joel F. Bronstein, Kristi Lyn Gavalier, Catherine R. Hilkey-Boyatt ■ Charles Metzger Jr.; Internal Medicine; Boca Raton, FL called by: Gregory W. Brown, Allison Cohan, Eric R. Martinson, Joel F. Bronstein, Kristi Lyn Gavalier, Catherine R. Hilkey-Boyatt ■ Phillip Ashburn; Standards of Care; Raliegh, NC called by: Gregory W. Brown, Allison Cohan, Eric R. Martinson, Joel F. Bronstein, Kristi Lyn Gavalier, Catherine R. Hilkey-Boyatt

Facts:

On Jan. 20, 2012, plaintiff's decedent Del Ray Baird, 75, died. Prior to his death, he had been a resident at the Blue Ridge Health Care Center (BRHCC). Two other BRHCC residents also died, plaintiff's Elizabeth J. Jones, 76, and plaintiff's decedent Bettie Mae Kee, 80, on March 2, 2012 and March 20, 2012, respectively. It was alleged that all three of these individuals died due to negligence at the nursing facility. Geraldine VanDevender, as administrator of the estates of Del Ray and Jacqueline Ann Baird; Joyce K. Harrison, as administrator of the estate of Bettie Mae Kee; and Norwood Jones, Lisa Pate and Ralph Jones, Jr., co-executors of the estate of Elizabeth Jones, filed suit against BRHCC and related entities, Raleigh Regional Rehab Center, LLC, Care Virginia Management, LLC, Care One, LLC and NC Management Holdings, LLC (hereinafter collectively referred to BRHCC), alleging negligence, elder abuse and wrongful death. The plaintiffs initially brought this case in state court, but it was removed by BRHCC to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Although the BRHCC facilities were located in North Carolina and its employees and staff were North Carolina residents, all of the business entities under which BRHCC operated were either out of state entities or were local limited liability corporations with all of the members being out-of-state residents. The lawsuit alleged that Del Ray Baird was admitted to BRHCC on Dec. 29, 2011, at approximately 5:15 p.m. Mr. Baird's family claimed they selected BRHCC because it was close to family and provided ventilator support. At the time of his admission, Baird could communicate with BRHCC staff and family members and was alert and responsive. During the night, the lawsuit alleged that Mr. Baird persisted in banging on his ventilator and was eventually administered Klonopin. The lawsuit asserted that he was administered Ativan after continuing to bang on the ventilator and grab at his feed tube pump. He was then administered Ambien. Mr. Baird continued to appear agitated throughout the night. Eventually Ativan was administered. Per the lawsuit, Mr. Baird was found unresponsive with the vent pulled off at 2:20 a.m. on Dec. 30, 2011, and the low-pressure alarm on his ventilator was found to be turned to the off position. Mr. Baird was transferred to Rex Hospital and died there on Jan. 20, 2012 as the result of an anoxic brain injury. The lawsuit alleged that Bettie Mae Kee was admitted to BRHCC on June 9, 2011, for rehabilitation and ventilator care. The lawsuit asserted that Ms. Kee had been diagnosed with respiratory failure secondary to severe pulmonary hypertension and severe chronic obstructive lung disease and wanted to be near her family. Per the family, BRHCC was the closest skilled nursing facility that met her needs. Ms. Kee resided at BRHCC through March 20, 2012, exclusive of hospitalizations. The lawsuit alleged that Ms. Kee had a number of injuries and incidents during her stay at BRHCC, including several concerning her ventilator and tracheostomy. On March 16, 2012, Ms. Kee reportedly removed her tracheostomy tube, appeared panicked and was administered Ativan. The next day, according to the lawsuit, Ms. Kee's trach was found removed nine times through the night and, on March 18, the trach was found removed three times. Ms. Kee also reportedly fell that day and another three times on March 19. The lawsuit asserted that Ms. Kee fell asleep in her chair on the night of March 19 and, at 3:15 a.m. on March 20, was found dead, holding her trach in her left hand. The lawsuit alleged that Elizabeth Jones was admitted to BRHCC on March 7, 2011, after having been diagnosed with respiratory failure and determined to require a ventilator via trach. The lawsuit alleged that BRHCC was the closest skilled nursing facility that met her needs. Ms. Jones resided at BRHCC from March 2011 to March 2012, exclusive of hospitalizations. The lawsuit alleged that Ms. Jones developed several infections during her time at BRHCC, including a urinary tract infection for which she was admitted to Rex Hospital from Dec. 22, 2011, to Feb. 6, 2012. She was then admitted to Select Specialty Hospital from Feb. 6, 2012, to March 2, 2012. The lawsuit alleged that, on March 2, 2012, Ms. Jones returned to BRHCC and her son, Don, was with her at that time. Per the lawsuit, at some point that day, Ms. Jones' ventilator low-pressure alarm sounded. Her son Don claimed he sought help and a BRHCC staffer turned off the alarm. Later, a respiratory therapist allegedly came to the room, confirmed to Don that the ventilator alarm sounded because it had zero tidal volume and said that she would return to change Ms. Jones's tracheostomy after tending to another patient. The lawsuit alleged that the respiratory therapist eventually returned and did not clean the area around the tube before changing it. Ms. Jones died on March 2, 2012, the same day she was readmitted to BRHCC. At trial, the plaintiffs contended that each of the decedents had received substandard care and the care they received was below both federal and state regulations for the standards of care in nursing homes. The implicated standards included abuse of patients' rights, improper and inadequate sanitation, improper bathing, failure of alarms, failure to respond, lack of proper respiratory and nursing staff, and understaffing. The plaintiffs called experts in all aspects of nursing home care and respiratory treatment to explain to the jury what the applicable standards are and how the defendants violated those standards. BRHCC denied it violated standards of nursing home care and called its own battery of experts in the various components of nursing home care and respiratory treatment. Essentially, the defense argued that these elderly patients had reached the end of their lives and it just happened on the defendants' watch.

Injury:

The plaintiffs sought compensatory damages for the death of Del Ray Baird, Elizabeth Jones and Bettie Mae Kee. Various family members testified at to the quality of the decedents' lives relative to their family relationships and interests. Expert testimony was introduced to forecast the life expectancies of the decedents, absent their deaths brought about by the alleged conduct of the defendants. The plaintiffs also sought punitive damages. They contended that the defendants purposefully and willfully failed to communicate with physicians and responsible parties following significant changes in the medical conditions of the decedents. The plaintiffs also accused the defendants of intentional, grossly negligent and other willful and wanton failures of administration and management, showing a reckless disregard for the rights and safety of the decedents.

Result:

The jury made similar findings as to all three decedents, finding that the decedents suffered wrongful death proximately caused by the medical negligence of defendants. The jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $1,573,939.16 to the estate of Del Ray Baird; compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $1,823,939.16 to the estate of Elizabeth Jones; and compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of$1,823,939.16 to the estate of Bettie Mae Kee.

Estate of Del Ray Baird:

$1,523,939 Personal Injury: Punitive Exemplary Damages; $50,000 Personal Injury: compensatory damages

Estate of Elizabeth J. Jones:

$1,523,939 Personal Injury: Punitive Exemplary Damages; $300,000 Personal Injury: compensatory damages

Estate of Bettie Mae Kee:

$1,523,939 Personal Injury: Punitive Exemplary Damages; $300,000 Personal Injury: compensatory damages

Trial Information:

Judge:

Terrence W. Boyle

Trial Length:

4  days

Trial Deliberations:

2  hours

Jury Vote:

12-0

Post Trial:

Reserved and post-trial motions have been filed by the defense. Judgment had not been entered at the time of publication.

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs' and defense counsel.