Thursday, July 29, 2010

Woman awarded $7 million in court case

Jury holds Hillcrest Nursing Home responsible for former resident’s pain, suffering and medical expenses

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — A jury awarded a London woman $7 million last week for pain, suffering and medical expenses for injuries she incurred while recuperating from knee surgery at a southern Laurel County nursing home.

Grace Fugate filed a lawsuit against Hillcrest Nursing Home in 2004, claiming staff members at the facility were negligent in caring for her after her surgery.

After a three-day trial in Laurel Circuit Court, a jury awarded Fugate $383,097.95 for past medical expenses, the maximum amount allowed by Kentucky state law. She was also awarded $766,195.90 for future medical expenses and $1 million for past and future physical, mental and emotional pain and suffering.

Additionally, the jury awarded Fugate $5 million in punitive damages for the nursing home’s negligence during her stay.

Annette Morgan with Morgan & White Law firm in Manchester, Fugate’s attorney, said she is thrilled with the unanimous decision.

Tipton & Tipton Law Offices in Corbin represented Hillcrest Nursing Home and its owner Terry E. Forcht in the lawsuit. Messages seeking comment were not returned by press time Tuesday.

Fugate, who was 67 at the time of the incident, had undergone knee replacement and was placed in rehabilitation at Hillcrest in July 2004.

According to the lawsuit, on Aug. 3, 2004, Fugate needed help getting up from bed and rang for a nurse assistant.

“An employee of Defendant Hillcrest Nursing Home rudely told her to ‘Do it yourself,’ adding the insult, ‘Get over yourself.’ Said employee placed the call button and/or beeper so that the plaintiff could not request the assistance of another aid and/or nurse and left the room after refusing to give assistance to the plaintiff,” the lawsuit reads.

Fugate then attempted to get out of bed on her own to use the bathroom, and fell in the floor beside her bed. The impact of the fall caused the surgical incision to rupture and damaged the ligaments around her knee.

“The nurse who came in and found her said that it was a horrific sight,” Morgan said. “Grace was taken to Baptist Regional Medical Center and had to be resuscitated due to the blood loss.”

Fugate, who now lives in Laurel Heights Home for the Elderly, remained at the Corbin hospital for two months. Morgan said Fugate’s son tried to care for her in his home, but she continued to have ongoing infections around the knee and eventually had to have the leg amputated.

Fugate has a long history of health problems prior to her fall at Hillcrest Nursing Home. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was about 30 years old, Morgan said, and also suffered severe osteoporosis and multiple joint replacement at the time of the accident.

It took nearly seven years for a jury to hear Fugate’s case in part because the nursing assistant who allegedly denied helping Fugate that day in 2004, Ginda Rogers, was unable to be located.

“We spent several years trying to locate the employee,” Morgan said. “Seven years is a long time. But we did have to put off the trial three times due to Grace’s (Fugate) health. She’s had ongoing infections since the day she fell. And Grace wanted her day in court. She always told me that they knew what they did to her and that no one should ever be treated that way.”

Fugate’s health, however, prevented her from attending the trial last week, Morgan said.

The attorneys representing Hillcrest Nursing Home have 30 days to file an appeal.

“After those 30 days are up, I have the job of trying to collect this money for Grace,” Morgan said. “I want Grace to have some of this money while she is still living.”

Morgan said Fugate wishes to “go home.” Morgan wants to secure the award money for her so Fugate can pay a qualified person to care for her in her home.

“She wants to spend her last days at home,” Morgan said. “Now it’s my job to see that she gets some of this money so that she can.”

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