A Stockton, CA family has been awarded nearly $30 million in a wrongful death nursing home lawsuit. The family’s 79 year old matriarch was suffering from mild dementia when she was moved to the Colonial Health care nursing home in March 2005. Seven months later, she died from an infected bedsore. The woman was known to family and friends as a vibrant woman; always helping others. Even with her mild dementia, she was still active until she suffered injuries from a fall in September 2005. Eight days later, she was diagnosed with a hip fracture and a bedsore was discovered. The nursing home staff let her suffer, in pain, for eight days, without proper diagnosis, and were also negligent in noticing the bed sore. Her condition deteriorated after hip surgery. A few weeks later, she died after the bedsore had become infected.
The lawsuit was filed against Colonial Health care and its parent company, Horizon West of Rocklin, alleging the entities were responsible for her death. The jury awarded $1.1 million in damages for her pain and suffering and her daughter’s loss of companionship. Testimonies during the wrongful death trial revealed that Colonial was chronically understaffed and had poor medical documentation. Former employees testified that the health care organization put profits before patients. The jury also awarded punitive damages stating that Colonial’s was “malicious, oppressive, or fraudulent.”
Colonial Health care has a history of problems with state regulators. It seems that this reported case is the fourth in recent years where a death occurred due to elder abuse and neglect. Proper staffing seems to be the most critical issue facing patients and families. In 2006, the facility received two Class AA citations, the most severe penalty possible, in the death of two patients. Class AA citations are care facility violations that a state department determines to be a direct cause of the death of a patient or resident. Last year, Colonial was cited with another Class AA penalty in another incident resulting in death. Although a license is supposed to be suspended or revoked when two Class AA citations are given within a 24-month period, the state reached a settlement agreement that allowed Colonial to stay open as long as they met the minimum staffing requirements. Had the state shut them down, this woman’s death may have been prevented. And, it appears that Colonial did not learn any lessons form this tragedy. During investigations into the case, it was discovered that Colonial’s own documentation demonstrated that the facility met acceptable standards only 24% of the time; further, there was only one licensed nurse for every 40 to 45 dementia patients.
When will all nursing homes be a safe place for our aging loved ones? When will those in non-compliance mode start doing a better job? While there are some outstanding senior care facilities, it is time that industry regulatory agencies hold those nursing homes that are not meeting acceptable standards accountable for improper staffing, care, and documentation. Until that time, the best deterrent to future conduct is the threat of a lawsuit; and, as was the case here, a punitive damages award.
Lawsuit Financial, the pro-justice lawsuit funding company, congratulates this Stockton family on its litigation success. We hope this case will have an impact on the elder care industry. As for our role in these cases, we will continue to assist patients and their loved ones who have been seriously injured or died due to nursing home abuse and neglect by providing strategic lawsuit funding while the case is pending. By eliminating financial pressure to settle a case too early for too little, a lawsuit cash advance can make a real difference in the resolution of personal injury litigation.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.