Court Explains Relevance of Adult Protection Act in Nursing Home Neglect Lawsuits

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued a recent opinion clarifying what law can be used to prove negligence on behalf of a nursing home. The decision came as a result of a case brought by on behalf of a nursing home resident, Martha S. French. Specifically, the daughter of Ms. French brought a wrongful death case against the Stratford House nursing home claiming ordinary negligence and negligence per se. The lawsuit led to the filing of a motion for partial summary judgment, dismissing the negligence per se and Tennessee Adult Protection Act claims in addition to the claim for punitive damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part, but vacated the order dismissing the punitive damages claim. The administrator of the estate appealed.

According to this case, Martha French was fifty-four years old when she suffered her second stroke and was admitted to Highland Manor Nursing Home in 2000. After three years, Ms. French’s daughter arranged for her to be transferred to Stratford House, a long-term care facility in Chattanooga, TN. When she was admitted to the nursing home, French did not have any pressure sores. The nursing home’s care plan recognized that French had limited mobility which made her a risk for developing pressure sores. The care plan stated that French should be turned and repositioned frequently by nursing home staff, kept clean and dry after incontinence, and provided adequate hydration and nutrition.

While she was at Stratford House, French’s condition worsened. Then, on July 23, 2003, Ms. French’s daughter again moved her mother, this time to Erlanger Medical Center. Ms. French had a low-grade fever and low blood pressure. Doctors at Erlanger tried to increase her blood pressure as well as treat a urinary tract infection and a number of infected pressure ulcers. Despite these efforts, Ms. French developed pulmonary swelling and required help breathing. Ms. French died on July 26, 2003 from sepsis. French’s estate determined that she suffered from decubitus ulcers that were so severe that the kidney became necrotic and infected. These injuries became septic and led to her death. The estate alleged that Stratford Home failed to provide the medical treatment and ordinary care that Ms. French’s condition required.

The Tennessee Supreme Court decided that because the estate claimed that there were violations as to the standard of care pertaining to both medical treatment and routine care, that claims existed for both medical malpractice and ordinary negligence. To prove these claims the court held the plaintiff could offer proof of violations of the Tennessee Adult Protection Act which, if foud, could constitute negligence “per se”. The Court also affirmed the Court of Appeals’ reinstatement of the claim for punitive damages. The Supreme Court of Tennessee determined that the gravamen of the case falls into the category of ordinary negligence. Unfortunately for victims of neglect, the Court also determined that neither the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act nor the corresponding Tennessee act creates an express right of private action. However, proof of violations of the regulations is relevant in determining whether the nursing home breached the standard of care, so negligence per se theory may be pursued.

The Tennessee Supreme Court finally decided that the injuries that Ms. French suffered, which allegedly occurred because of the defendants’ ordinary negligence, are the type of injuries that TAPA is intended to address. The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ determination that the trial court erred in dismissing the punitive damages claims. The Supreme Court of Tennessee remanded the case to the trial court for proceedings.

Cases of nursing home abuse and negligence can be prevented if nursing home staff are probably trained and follow the procedures and guidelines that they need to for elderly people with mobility problems. If you suspect that someone you care has been abused or neglected while living in a nursing home, then you should contact one of our experienced and caring nursing home abuse attorneys with the Higgins Firm. We understand how hard this must be for you and we will work with you to make sure that you are compensated fairly for the injuries your love has been caused.

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.

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