Supreme Court Restores Verdict Against Nursing Home Based on Understaffing

RHEAETTA F. WILSON ET AL. v. AMERICARE SYSTEMS, INC. ET AL.
Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys:

Clarence James Gideon, Jr., and Alan S. Bean, Nashville, Tennessee, and Raymond W. Fraley, Jr., Fayetteville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Rheaetta F. Wilson and Lauralyn F. Watson.

Roger W. Dickson, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and David L. Johnson, Nashville, Tennessee, (on appeal); Thomas Pinckney and Susan D. Bass, Nashville, Tennessee, (at trial) for the appellee, Americare Systems, Inc.

Judge: LEE

The issue presented is whether the jury verdict against the management company of an assisted living facility for negligence based on understaffing is supported by material evidence. Mable Farrar’s physician prescribed Ms. Farrar a daily dose of an over-the-counter medicine for constipation. The nursing staff at the assisted living facility where Ms. Farrar lived did not give the medicine to her as often as prescribed. As a result, Ms. Farrar became constipated and returned to see her doctor. Ms. Farrar’s doctor notified the nursing staff at the assisted living facility to give Ms. Farrar three to four enemas each day beginning on May 27, 2004. A facility nurse gave Ms. Farrar one enema on the evening of May 27, none on May 28, and one enema on the evening of May 29. Very soon after receiving the last enema on May 29, Ms. Farrar died from a perforated colon. Her daughters filed a wrongful death action against the nurse who gave the enema, the director of nursing at the assisted living facility, the owner of the facility, and its management company. The suit alleged that the negligence of the staff, the owner, and its management company caused Ms. Farrar’s death. The jury returned a verdict finding the nurse thirty percent at fault, the director of nursing twenty percent at fault, and the management company fifty percent at fault based on its failure to provide sufficient personnel at the facility. The management company appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the jury verdict against the management company, finding that there was no material evidence that staffing deficiencies proximately caused Ms. Farrar’s death. We hold that the jury’s verdict was supported by material evidence. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the Court of Appeals for review of the award of punitive damages.

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