$54 MILLION ON NURSING HOME VERDICT IN NEW MEXICO
Our congratulations go west today – to attorney Carl Bettinger, who called his jury “heroes” “and said he was honored to have represented Barber’s daughter, Lori Keith, in taking on “one of the largest corporations in the country … so she could show the public what happened to her mother and in so doing save the lives of others.””
Scott Sandlin, reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, reports:
The defendant, ManorCare, one of the largest nursing home corporations in the United States, declined to comment.
Attorney for the Plaintiff asked the jury to award punitive damages totaling 2.5 percent of the corporation’s total 2006 assets of $2.3 billion. The punitive damages awarded by the jury ($50,000 million) are just over 2 percent.
Keith said in an interview that she had asked for an autopsy immediately after her 78-year-old mother’s death in 2004 because it was so unexpected, despite her mother’s medical problems. “I just had a feeling something went terribly wrong,” she said. Keith said that she arrived at the facility within three hours of being informed by phone of her mother’s death and that staffers had hastily crammed her mother’s belongings into four cardboard boxes. Money was also missing, she said. “It was ransacked, really,” she said of her mother’s room. Lawyers learned a few months before trial that a nursing aide found Barber lying in soiled, bloody sheets, which were immediately removed by staffers. By the time relatives arrived, Barber was lying on clean sheets with her arms crossed over her chest, leading the family to claim in the lawsuit that ManorCare had destroyed evidence. A doctor who performed Barber’s autopsy testified that, if a patient dies in suspicious circumstances, the person’s immediate surroundings are normally taken to the Office of the Medical Investigator along with the body. He said that, based on his exam, Barber had died of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage. Bettinger and Michael Gross, co-counsel in the case, introduced evidence to show that the internal bleeding had been going on for several days with no response, even though staff members had been aware of it. The family’s lawyers said Barber’s charting was so inadequate that it showed that Barber had been given an insulin injection 2 1/2 hours after her death. ManorCare’s expert testified that Barber had died of a heart attack, and company officials said the cleanup was simply a matter of hygiene and dignity. Bettinger presented evidence of other instances of neglect at ManorCare facilities in New Mexico, including patients repeatedly found in fecal- and urine-soiled bedding, improper restraints and improperly trained staff. He said top company officials testified about being kept apprised of financial data but not about abuse and neglect citations. Adult Protective Services, a state agency, conducted an investigation and cited ManorCare for neglect in connection with Barber’s death. The New Mexico Department of Health also issued multiple citations, unsuccessfully appealed by ManorCare, attorneys said. The jury found that ManorCare’s negligence was a cause of Barber’s death and injuries. The jury apportioned 80 percent of the negligence to ManorCare and 20 percent to two certified nurse practitioners who contracted with the company but were not its employees. ManorCare attorney R.E. Thompson said the company will file post-trial motions, which typically seek to overturn the jury verdict or to reduce or eliminate punitive damages.”