In Florida a jury found that a West Palm Beach nursing home failed to honor the living will and advance directives of a 92 year-old resident with Alzheimer’s disease who had stipulated that she did not want to be kept alive by artificial means. The jurors ruled that the home should pay $150,000 in damages. However, the jury did not find the doctor, against whom suit had also been brought, negligent for his role.

The 12-year lawsuit goes back to 1995, when the resident became unconscious, and nursing facility staff called 911. The nursing home claimed calling emergency workers was the right thing to do because the doctor was not in the facility. The resident was taken to the hospital where she was hooked up to various life-sustaining equipment, including a breathing tube, but she died six days later.

The resident’s granddaughter sued the nursing home for prolonging her grandmother’s life unnecessarily. After the verdict, she said that she wanted to let those caring for the elderly know that “they need to pay attention to patients’ end-of-life directives and wishes.” The jurors said that they ruled against the facility because it did not have its procedures in place to make sure the resident’s living will was carried out, but felt the doctor was compassionate and caring and should not be held responsible. The verdict has been lauded by bioethicists. Dr. Kenneth Goodman, director of the University of Miami’s bioethics program and the Florida Bioethics Network, said, “This is a big deal. It’s a reaffirmation that no means no. There are a lot of institutions and a lot of health-care professionals who have acquired the belief that you reduce liability over treating patients. This case shows that’s a bad strategy. The whole point is that advance directives survive your inability to utter them.”

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Dan Frith
Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at dfrith@frithlawfirm.com.