Nursing Home Attack Highlights Workplace Rights

In order to hear a claim a court must have jurisdiction over the matter. Essentially, that means that the court must be legally able to hear the case. For example, some courts are only legally allowed to hear certain types of cases, like the Tax Court, which only hears tax cases. In addition, some courts may be precluded by administrative agencies. If an administrative agency is supposed to address the issue, then the court is generally not allowed to step in to fill the administrative agency’s role. The laws occasionally create small areas where the court can act, but in order to fit in those areas, your case has to have a certain type of very specific facts.

A case arising from the Parish of East Carroll explains these conflicts. In that case, a woman working at Shady Lake Nursing Home was attacked by a resident. The resident was outside of his room when he was not supposed to be, the women told him to go back to his room, and he attacked her in a fit of rage. In this instance, the woman was obese and had high blood pressure. She started having blood pressure issues shortly after the attack and was subsequently rushed to the hospital. She died approximately one hour after the attack.

Because the attack occurred at her workplace while she was working, workers’ compensation covered the attack. However, her family also attempted to sue Shady Lake Nursing Home for damages. They argued under two major exceptions to workers’ compenstation law: intentional tort law and heart conditions.

First, under intentional tort law, they argued that the patient that attacked the woman was aggressive and Shady Lake Nursing Home knew that, but did nothing to protect the woman. Since intentional torts are not covered under workers’ compensation, the court considered whether they had jurisdiction in the case, or if workers’ compensation should be the only remedy.

The court first considered the meaning of intent: “either desires to bring about the physical results of his act, or believes they were substantially certain to follow from what he did.” Negligence, even gross negligence, acts cannot rise to intentional. The court pointed out that the nursing home did know of the patient’s violent outbursts, but he had never attacked a person prior to the event with the woman. However, he was known to punch holes in walls, and he had impulse control disorder, dementia, associated psychotic disorder from a closed head injury, and a history of chemical dependency and alcoholism.

The people at the nursing home all stated that they were surprised about the attack. The patient had been verbally aggressive and occasionally shoved other nurses, but had never before hit anyone. In fact, the LPN that was assigned to the patient noted that he was housed with other people, seemed to be getting along with everyone, and was gradually becoming more cooperative. The staff in no way thought that the attack was inevitable.

The court concluded, then, that the only failure that the employer had was not creating a safe workplace, which is a complaint that is dealt with under workers’ compensation law. However, the women’s family went on to argue that heart related issues are not covered under workers’ compensation law (La. R.S. 23:1021(8)(c)). The court concedes that while this information is correct, the law explains that the heart condition and related death can be under workers’ compensation law if the death results from extraordinary working conditions. Only if the working conditions become “extraordinary” will the case fall in workers’ compensation when it involves a heart condition. In addition, the stress of work, not some other preexisting condition must be the major cause.

The court explains that the purpose of the law is “intended to exclude from workers’ compensation coverage those employees who just happen to suffer a perivascular or heart-related injury at work.” Therefore, the women’s family needed to prove that the stress at work was extraordinary in this instance, thereby triggering her heart condition. The other workers that testified explained that it is somewhat common for residents to hit their nurses, but the altercation between this patient and the woman was very unusual. Therefore, the court determined that the action was unusual, so it satisfied the first part of the test regarding workers’ compensation and heart conditions. Then, the court determined that the hit was the underlying cause of the death. The hit aggravated her condition, and she would have been fine if she were not hit. Therefore, the court concluded that it was the working condition, and not the preexisting condition that was the major cause of her death.

The family in this case tried to get around workers’ compensation law so that they could get a higher amount of damages. The law binds the court to only operate in its subject jurisdiction, which means that their rulings are limited by administrative agencies.

These areas may be difficult to determine, so you should contact The Berniard Law Firm today toll free at 1-866-574-8005 and we will determine which court should hear your case.