Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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The Chicago Tribune and other local media outlets are reporting that 98-year-old nursing home resident Dorothy Byrd died last month as a result of an overdose of two powerful painkillers. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office has ruled her death a homicide. Byrd was a resident at Holland Home, an assisted living facility located at 16300 Louis Ave in South Holland, Ill.

Reports indicate that in addition to Byrd’s death, five other residents of Holland Home were hospitalized on February 3 due to unknown causes. Two of these residents also died, but the Medical Examiner is still awaiting toxicology results and has not yet released the causes of their deaths. According to the Chicago Sun-Times coverage, Byrd’s death was the result of a morphine and hydrocodone overdose.

Holland House is an assisted living facility operated by Villa Healthcare, a healthcare management company headquartered in Skokie that, according to the company’s website, operates 12 nursing homes and four assisted living facilities in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. According to the Holland Home’s website, the facility offers independent living, assisted living and memory care services.
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When considering misconduct and abuse of power at nursing homes, most residents and their families worry about physical abuse and neglect. Far too many have been forced to deal with a senior loved one’s untimely death or serious injury which could have been prevented if caregivers had simply done their job up to reasonable standards.

Yet lurking on top of the persistent threat of neglect is also the risk that those paid to provide care will intentionally abuse their position for financial gain. Trust is at the center of the resident-nursing home relationship. That is why stories like one coming out of Champaign are maddening–a reminder that all those involved in nursing home care administration, if they choose, can cause serious damage to those who count of them.

Systematic Senior Financial Exploitation

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Illinois nursing home neglect and abuse cases are just one type of injury lawsuit that fall of the rubric of “tort” law. All tort law cases are guided by different procedural rules applicable at both the state and federal levels. Those rules dictate general principles like “who” can sue and “what” they can recover. All of those rules are separate from specific arguments about whether someone was or was not injured due to negligence.

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important ruling in a high-profile case that may eventually affect the applicability of those tort rules for some Illinois couples.

DOMA Case

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The Chicago Tribune reported that former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood discovered the body of a 40-year-old nursing home resident while he was paddle boarding in Lake Michigan on Monday morning. According to reports, the baseball star immediately called 911. Soon after pulling the man’s body out of the water, detectives were able to identify him thanks to an I.D. tag on his wrist.

The name of the victim has not yet been released, but most of the initial reports we’ve seen say that the man lived in a North Side Chicago nursing home but was reported missing after being discharged from a local hospital on June 19. Current reports have not revealed where the victim lived, but there are a number of facilities located in the Edgewater neighborhood surrounding the 5400 block of North Broadway, including All American Nursing Home and Bryn Mawr Care.

Without knowing more about this particular case, it is difficult to say who, if anyone, is responsible for his wandering and ultimate death. Through our work with nursing home residents and their families, we have handled a number of cases involving resident elopement or wandering. Many nursing home residents who suffer from dementia or mental illness pose an elopement risk, and nursing homes are obligated to provide proper supervision and assistance to reduce this risk. Residents who are unfit to leave the facility but do so may face serious and sometimes fatal injuries. Therefore facilities must be sufficiently staffed with employees who are properly trained to care for residents who have a tendency to wander.

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Earlier this week federal official released updated information on fungal meningitis infections which have affected hundreds across the country. Over the last two weeks we have discussed how this outbreak has spread across the country, with more and more involved patients identified. An NBC News report on Wednesday provided even more sad news. According to the story another four medical patients have died as a result of the fungal meningitis they contracted via the infected spinal steroid injections. That brings the total of deaths to nineteen. RIght now the total infected count is at 247–a significant growth from when we first started discussing this story at the beginning of the month. The sickest patients to start–which likely included some seniors–seemed to face the most trouble as a result of the meningitis.

Amazingly, we still may not be near the end of the outbreak. Officials from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention report that the total number of infection is actually expected to rise even higher. That is because almost 17,000 vials of the steroid may have been sent out, with a majority of them actually used before they were recalled in late September.

National Call for Accountability

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The Weatherford Democrat reported this week on another lawsuit filed by a family following the death of a loved one. Unfortunately, because of the frailty of many seniors in these facilities, when a mistake is made, it often proves to be fatal. A suit alleging neglect in a nursing home often includes claims for wrongful death.

Wrongful death claims are distinct from basic claims of nursing home negligence in the specific harm that is alleged. While abuse or neglect suits generally seek to hold one accountable for the harm suffered by the individual physically hurt in the ordeal, a wrongful death lawsuit seeks compensation for the separate harm suffered by certain loved ones. In many cases multiple claims can be made following a single event. The actual facts to be examined are the same for all of the claims, but the legal rules and potential recovery are differences for each claim. While it may seem complicated, it is actually a common sense way to ensure full accountability for various harms that results from unreasonable care provided by those who had a duty to act properly to keep others safe..

The Latest Nursing Home Neglect Case

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Recently, a Federal District Court in Texas saw a case in which a nursing home’s negligence led to the death of one of its residents. Although the decedent’s daughter ultimately decided not to prosecute her claims against the facility (likely, instead focusing on the care providers who failed to treat the nursing home’s resident), it’s a situation that is all too common across the country, and here in Illinois.

Illinois has an alarming rate of nursing home negligence cases, and every day our Chicago nursing home abuse attorneys see devastating cases in which residents are mistreated, neglected, and physically abused. The people in nursing homes are our mothers, our fathers, our loved ones, and no one should be forced to endure that kind of treatment.

In the above-mentioned case, the woman who passed away as a result of the nursing facility’s abuse suffered from pressure sores which ultimately caused her death. Pressure sores, more commonly known as bedsores, can occur on any part of the body and are fatal if not properly treated.

Pressure sores can be treated, and often cured, by adjusting the patient’s position regularly. They are most often caused by sitting in the same position for extended periods of time, which ultimately impedes blood flow to the affected areas. Once the patient has been repositioned, the wound must be cleaned and properly dressed to prevent further infection. It’s a fairly straightforward system of care, but if left untreated, pressure sores can extend deep into the tissue, leaving an open wound. In severe cases, the wound will extend to the muscle, tendon, or bone.
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A week and a half ago we posted on an Illinois wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Maple Ridge Care Center in Lincoln, Illinois on behalf of a 63-year old former resident of the facility. The victim in that case was killed shortly after negligent care led to the amputation of their leg. There was a 16 hour delay before staff members noticed problems ultimately diagnosed as deep-vein thrombosis.

However, before that incident, the nursing home was fined by state administrators for their conduct in treatment of another resident. A 32-year old woman with spina bifida died at the facility in March of 2009 when the care workers failed to resuscitate her-leading to the $10,000 state fine. Now, according to Lawsuits and Settlements, the family of that victim has filed a nursing home lawsuit against the facility for its conduct in the case.

The victims’ allege that the young resident had clearly indicated her desire to be resuscitated if necessary. However, after suffering heart failure, the staff members explicitly decided not to attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation because they did not want to “break up” what they deemed to be her frail body. Of course, the decision about what medical procedures to use were solely in the hands of the victim and her family-not the workers at the facility. Failure to abide by the patient’s wishes may have cut her life short.
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Steve Levin, one of the founding partners of our nursing home law firm of Levin & Perconti was recently the legal commentator on an episode of the RocketLawyer’s podcast. In it, Steve discussed various legal issues that may affect everyone at one time or another.

He began by providing advice on a legal concept known as “assumption of risk.” The issue involves the possible circumstances where an individual may not recover for an injury if they specifically sign something where they admit to knowing that there is chance the activity may result in some personal harm. Steve explained that it is obviously important to fully read and understand all documents that you sign to ensure that you are not agreeing to something that you shouldn’t.

In the nursing home context many residents and their families are forced to sign documents when entering a nursing home-often called a “negotiated risk agreement.” The facilities often use these agreements to try and avoid liability when a resident suffers an injury at the facility by having the signers waive their right to sue under certain circumstances.

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A caregiver at a North Carolina nursing home was charged with murdering Rachel Holliday, an 84-year-old Alzheimer’s nursing home resident, with morphine. The nursing home caregiver, Angela Almore, also faces charges of felony abuse, which are related to the hospitalization of six other Alzheimer’s patients whom authorities suspect she also gave morphine. This investigation began when authorities suspected abuse after the Alzheimer’s patients tested positive for morphine. The State believes that the patients were likely given morphine to make them more manageable.

Overmedication is a problem that arises too often in nursing homes. An October report in the Chicago Tribune investigated this issue, finding that nursing home staff will resort to overmedicating their residents in order to make it easier to manage them. This usually stems from nursing homes being understaffed or insufficiently trained to handle the complex needs of residents with dementia. Of course, this decision to overmedicate, or to medicate without a physician’s order, is against the standard of care. Further, overmedicating residents in nursing homes can have potentially detrimental effects on their health, and can deteriorate their fragile and vulnerable nature. As evidenced by the article mentioned above, and many similar cases throughout the country, overmedication can and does cause death in nursing home residents.

Our attorneys at Levin & Perconti are very familiar with the effects of overmedicating nursing home residents. Most recently, one of our attorneys, Partner, Steve Levin, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the licensee of Woodstock Residence, in Woodstock, IL, a former nurse, and former nursing director, for administering a heavy dose of morphine that caused the premature death of a resident.