Jury Sends Strong Message to Nursing Home Industry by Assessing $4.4 Million Dollars for Death of Nursing Home Resident.

Leona Maxim died on August 23, 2013, eleven weeks after she was rolled out of bed for a second time at a nursing home in Solon, Ohio.  A Cuyahoga County jury, in a case brought by trial attorneys William Eadie and Michael A. Hill, on behalf of Ms. Maxim’s family, sent a strong message about the standards nursing homes must follow and the safety that patients in this community deserve by returning a verdict in the amount of $4,400,000 against the nursing home for causing her death.

The verdict consisted of $1,000,000 for Leona’s injuries, pain, and suffering, and $400,000 for her family for their loss.  The jury assessed another $3,000,000 as punitive damages to reform the defendant, Kindred Transition Care and Rehabilitation-Stratford (“Kindred Stratford”) and deter other nursing home corporations in the industry from acting in a similar manner.  As a punitive measure, the jury also required Kindred Stratford to pay the attorneys’ fees of William Eadie and Michael A. Hill, the lawyers who represented Leona Maxim’s family.

“As a family, we are grateful for the jury’s verdict.  We hope it will send a message to the nursing home industry and prevent someone’s mother from suffering the same fate as our mother,” said Christine Guest, one of Leona Maxim’s daughters.  “What we wanted all along was for Kindred Stratford to be accountable.”

Kindred Healthcare is one of the largest nursing home corporations in the United States, and operates nursing home facilities throughout the country.  In 2010, Kindred purchased an independent nursing home in Solon, Ohio, called “Stratford Commons.”  Kindred implemented its own practices, including rebranding the nursing home as Kindred Transitional Care and Rehabilitation-Stratford, hiring a new Executive Director, and mandating that caregivers follow its policies and procedures.

Leona had already lived at the nursing home for three years when it was taken over by Kindred.  Several months after Kindred purchased the nursing home, a single nursing assistant turned Leona while she was in bed.  Because Leona had weak legs and midsection following her stroke, Leona was unable to stop her momentum and rolled out of bed, hitting her knees on the floor.

Leona’s family asked the nursing home to use two nursing assistants whenever Leona was getting care that required repositioning her in bed moving forward.  Leona’s doctor ordered that two people assist Leona with all care that required repositioning in bed from that point forward.  Kindred Stratford’s staff testified the order was in place for Leona’s safety to protect her from rolling out of bed.

On June 3, 2013, a single nursing assistant rolled Leona out of bed for a second time while repositioning her in bed.  A second assistant was not present.  This time the impact of the fall severely fractured Leona’s right thigh bone, called the “femur” bone.

During the course of the litigation, Kindred Stratford claimed that only one aide was present on June 3, 2013 because Kindred Stratford had accidentally “dropped” the order for two-person assistance.  Kindred Stratford attempted to explain this as a “mistake” and unavoidable “human error.”  However, Leona’s attorneys argued that documentation proved that Kindred Stratford’s nursing assistants were not consistently following the order, and Kindred knew this.

Kindred Stratford’s former Executive Director admitted that staff members complained that they wanted more staff and help.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner, Thomas P. Gilson, M.D. testified at trial regarding his conclusion that Leona Maxim’s death was caused by the fall and broken leg.  Gilson explained that, when a large bone is broken, the body is forced to devote significant energy to heal that broken bone.  Because energy is being directed toward healing the fracture, there is less energy available to fight off infection and maintain life.  This commonly results in a steady stream of decline.  As a result, falls in the elderly are a matter of life and death.

Following the broken leg, physicians at the hospital chose to put Leona’s leg in an immobilizing brace, essentially a cast, to permit healing rather than have her undergo the risks of surgery.  Once Leona returned to Kindred Stratford, Leona’s family alleged the brace was not being put on correctly.

Leona’s family members testified that after informing the staff of multiple errors in placing the brace, they took a photograph of the brace when placed properly and had it hung above her bed so that Kindred Stratford’s staff would place it properly.

Leona developed multiple wounds, called pressure ulcers, from the brace.  One became a Stage IV pressure sore, also called a decubitus ulcer, that was deep enough to expose the tendon in her leg.  The pressure sore became infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacterium.

Leona declined physically and mentally to the point that she had to be taken to the hospital and placed on life support.  After several days, life support was removed and Leona died.  The caregivers at the hospital asked the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner to investigate the cause of death because they believed her death was caused by the fracture.  The Medical Examiner investigated Leona’s death and concluded that Leona died from complications of the broken femur.

The official cause of Leona’s death is “femur fracture with complications.”  The manner of death was ruled “accidental” because it was caused by trauma, specifically being rolled out of bed on June 3, 2013.

At trial, Kindred Stratford argued that although there was a “mistake” in the order, Leona was “assisted” to the floor and never rolled out of bed.  Kindred Stratford also argued that the brace was placed properly and was never mismanaged.  Kindred Stratford further claimed that Leona died from aspiration pneumonia completely unrelated to the broken leg.

After more than two weeks of testimony and evidence, the jury disagreed, finding that Kindred was negligent and that its negligence caused Leona Maxim’s death.  The jury also concluded that Kindred Stratford consciously disregarded Leona Maxim’s rights and safety under circumstances that had a great probability of causing substantial harm.  This latter finding was the basis for punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant and deter similar conduct.

The lawsuit was tried in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas from October 11-25, 2016 by trial attorneys William Eadie and Michael A. Hill.  Although based in Cleveland, Mr. Eadie and Mr. Hill handle wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases throughout the state of Ohio and, under certain circumstances, across the United States.

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