The client was a retired security officer who was living with his wife and son in his home. He developed a growth on the side of his face and went into the doctor to have it examined. The doctor determined that the growth was an abscess in his jaw and recommended surgery to remove the abscess. The surgery to remove the abscess was extensive and the client was not able to eat regular food because of the surgery to the jaw, so would require tube feedings until his jaw healed. He also experienced some post-operative infection which caused him to be weaker and more disoriented than normal. Therefore, when he was discharged from the hospital, he was sent to a nursing home to receive tube feedings and rehabilitation until he was ready to return home.
On the first evening in the nursing home, his daughter (a medical office administrator) let the nurses on duty know that she was concerned about her father falling because of his weakness and confusion. The daughter specifically requested that a bed alarm be used as a fall prevention measure. The nursing staff promised to do so, and the daughter went home. After the daughter left, the nursing staff discovered that there were no extra working bed alarms in the facility, so they decided to proceed without one and not alert the family that they could not deliver on the promise they had made to use a bed alarm.
Nursing home residents who was musculoskeletal weakness and confusion or disorientation are especially susceptible to falls. This is because their physical condition makes maintaining balance more difficult and their mental state leads to poor judgment regarding their own safety. Geriatric residents who are suffering from infections frequently experience significant confusion. Using a bed alarm on residents in this condition serves two purposes: first it alerts the staff that the resident is up, and second, it reminds the resident that they should be getting assistance.
In the early morning hours that first night he was in the defendant nursing home, the client got up on his own to go to the bathroom. On his way there, he fell and hit his head on the floor. There was a cut on his head that was bleeding profusely so he was sent to the emergency room. On arrival, he was sent for a CT scan which showed that there was a large subdural hematoma or brain bleed. A neurosurgeon was brought down to the emergency room and determined that the bleed was so significant that surgery would be futile. The family arrived shortly before he lapsed into unconsciousness from which he would not recover before dying two days later.
Our theory of liability was that the staff promised the family that a bed alarm would be used and broke that promise. A bed alarm was required under the circumstances because of the client’s weakness and disorientation. When they discovered that a bed alarm was not available, they were required to either place a sitter in the room or alert the family. They did neither, resulting in the fall, brain bleed, and wrongful death.
The case settled for $250,000 at a mediation conducted after the client’s wife and daughter gave their depositions. (Macon County).