Court Dissects Nursing Home Wrongful Death Case

Many families in America have had to move their loved ones into a nursing home. Whether the reason is that they don’t have the room to care for the elder, they don’t have the time or money to provide adequate care, or their elder wishes to be in the nursing home, the decision to send them to a nursing home is a difficult one. Families may be concerned about the level and amount of care their elders receive at the nursing home. Continuous stories of abuse at nursing homes may also be a cause of concern for families. Nursing homes are given a high level of trust in the care of their patrons. When this level of trust is broken, the results can be horrific and unacceptable. The law provides for levels of care that nursing homes and medical practitioners have to live by. Once these levels of care are ignored, the law steps in to provide relief for families.

In Braud v. Woodland Village, LLC, the issue was whether the trial court instructed the jury to view the case under the right legal standard. Mr. Braud was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Pick’s dementia. This combination of diseases left Mr. Braud with many issues including an eating disorder and a higher chance of heart attack. Mr. Braud was moved to Woodland Village nursing home (Woodland). After his arrival at Woodland, Mr. Braud began showing signs of aggression towards staff. He was prescribed anti-psychotic medication as part of his treatment. After some time, Mrs. Braud reported to her husband’s physician that Mr. Braud seemed very zombie-like. The physician instructed the Woodland staff that they were to check on Mr. Braud every 15 minutes for signs of distress. This was carried on for some time. The method used to check on Mr. Braud was to look through the window into his room to observe whether he was under any distress. The Woodland staff were never instructed to enter the room to check close-up. On September 2, 2004, after a 45 minute period of no Woodland staff checking on Mr. Braud, he was found to be unresponsive. Woodland staff called paramedics who arrived to the scene to find that Mr. Braud was likely dead for at least an hour before their arrival from a heart attack. At no point did any member of the Woodland staff attempt CPR on Mr. Braud. Mr. Braud’s family (collectively “plaintiff”) filed suit against Woodland for wrongful death and were awarded an amount of $1,650,000. After trial, defendants argued that (1) there was no harm from alleged medication errors (2) there was no evidence that Mr. Braud could be resuscitated (3) the award of $1,650,000 was far above the $500,000 statutory amount (4) there was no evidence that Woodland caused the heart attack and (5) evidence presented proved, at most, that there was a loss of chance of life, not that there was wrongful death. Woodland lost on all of these claims except that the amount of damages was reduced to $500,000. Woodland appealed the decision stating that the trial court’s refusal to include jury instructions for the “loss of a chance of survival” claim was a grounds to reverse the jury decision. The plaintiff appealed the decision to reduce the damages to $500,000.

In Louisiana, pursuant to LA.Rev. Stat. Section 9:2794(A), to find medical malpractice, the plaintiff must establish the standard of care applicable to the charged physician, a violation by the physician of that standard of care, and a causal connection between the physician’s alleged negligence and the plaintiff’s injuries resulting therefrom. The standard attributed to the physician is the standard used in Louisiana, based on the type of field, locale, and community in which the physician or medical practitioner practices. Further, in order for an appellate court to overturn a fact-finder’s decision, a two-prong test is used to analyze the result. First, the appellate court must find from the record that a reasonable factual basis does not exist for the finding in the trial court. Second, the court must further determine that the record established that the finding is manifestly erroneous.

The Appellate Court found that the record did not contain evidence sufficient enough to find a reasonable basis for it. Throughout the testimony, every expert refuted the idea that any action taken on the part of the Woodland caused Mr. Braud’s heart attack. Even the expert for plaintiff determined that no medication administered, or medication withheld led to Mr. Braud’s heart attack. Another expert stated that the heart attack was likely the result of the Pick’s dementia. Pick’s dementia leaves the victim with an eating disorder, which at Mr. Braud’s age could lead to significant damage to the body. Further, there was no action taken by any Woodland employee that caused Mr. Braud to have the heart attack. At most, not following the physician’s order of checking on Mr. Braud every 15 minutes, in addition to not performing CPR after calling the paramedics was negligence that allows for a claim of loss of a chance of survival. The issue was, as argued by Woodland, that the trial court did not instruct the jury as to the “loss of a chance of survival” claim. The burden of proof of both the wrongful death claim and the loss of a chance of survival claim are the same. The plaintiff must prove that there was a chance of survival and that this chance was lost due to defendant’s negligence. Since the trial court did not instruct the jury as to this claim, this impacted the determination of the jury, which amounted to legal error. For these reasons, the appellate court sent the case back to the trial court at which time the jury should be instructed on the loss of a chance of survival claim.

It may be a harsh decision to reverse a win for a family that lost a loved one. It is clear that there is a chance that Woodland was liable to plaintiff. The Court’s decision reminds us that there was more than one claim upon which plaintiff could have based its legal theory. The Court won a battle on behalf of the legal system by emphasizing that even if a defendant is liable, the defendant will not be liable for a claim for which it is not responsible. The correct legal standards should be applied to defendants to ensure the proper determination of justice. If you or a loved one have been injured due to the negligence of a physician or medical practitioner, it is essential that you seek immediate legal advice. As Braud v. Woodland Village, LLC. demonstrates, there are many legal theories upon which your rights are protected.

Call the Berniard Law firm at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who can help ensure your rights.