Accidental falls by residents in nursing homes present a serious threat to their well being. When an elderly resident falls, it can result in life threatening health issues. For that reason, after a resident in a nursing home falls, the resident must be evaluated to see what additional precautions must be put in place to prevent the person from falling again. If no additional precautions are taken and as a result the patient falls again, the nursing home is responsible for the harm.
In April of 2013, Kassel McVey sought a jury verdict in a nursing home fall case in Newberry County. In our case, our client’s mother had been admitted to the J.F. Hawkins Nursing Home for rehabilitation. The plan at the nursing home was to rehabilitate her and get her strong enough to return home where she had been living independently.
Her first day at the nursing home was June 3, 2009. Folks at the nursing home recognized that first day that the new resident was at high risk for falls. The nursing home put in place minimal fall precautions. They placed her bed in a low position and put up half side rails that went from head to waist.
At 5 a.m. on June 4, after spending her first night in the nursing home, the resident got up from her bed and fell while trying to go to the bathroom. She hit her head and suffered a bump on her right forehead. The nurses got her back in bed but did not reassess her fall risk. No additional fall precautions were put in place. Over the course of the next month, the nursing home staff met three times to discuss our client’s mother, but no additional fall precautions were put in place after those meetings either.
On July 10th, 2009, again at about 5 a.m., the resident woke to go to the bathroom. She made it to the doorway and fell. As a result of the fall, she fractured her pelvis and struck her head. She suffered a golf ball sized knot on her head. The evidence at trial showed that the knot on her head led to a brain injury that contributed to her death on September 4, 2009.
Our expert witness as well as the J.F. Hawkins nurses who cared for the resident testified that after the first fall on June 4th, her risk of falling needed to be re-evaluated and that relatively simple additional fall precautions should have been put in place, including:
- A toileting program (the resident was getting up at the same time every morning to go to the bathroom)
- Gripper socks to prevent her feet from slipping on the floor
- A bed alarm, which would sound when the resident got out of bed
The testimony also showed that these fall precautions work and likely would have prevented her fall.
In the jury trial in this case, the attorney for J.F. Hawkins did not put up a single witness in support of his client. The jury returned a verdict for both survival and wrongful death. The jury awarded $232,000 in wrongful death damages and $150,000 in survival damages.