Friday, May 28, 2010

Nursing Home Charged $29M in Wrongful Death Death

Nursing Home Charged $29M in Wrongful Death Death

Two small firm lawyers joined forces to win a $29 million jury verdict against a nursing home for delaying treatment of a 79-year-old woman who suffered a fractured hip and bed sore that led to her death.

Edward Dudensing, who runs a two-lawyer firm in Sacramento, Calif., and Jay Renneisen, founder of the two-lawyer Nursing Home & Elder Abuse Center in Walnut Creek, Calif., grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same law school and both specialize in elder abuse cases.
Trying their first case together, they convinced the jury that the nursing home chain’s chronic understaffing and a corporate scheme that siphoned profits to an alter-ego entity merited punitive damages.

“The corporate manipulation of money earned by the facility supported our position that this was an organization that puts profits over patient care,” said Dudensing.

A decision to leave three health care workers on the jury - including a nurse who raised her hand during jury selection to say she thought jury awards are too high and that punitive damages are generally not a good idea - resulted in a surprise ending to the seven-week trial.

“We went back and forth about it, but we felt good about having health care providers on the jury for liability, and we were willing to take our chances that punitive damages would be lower,” said Dudensing.

In the end, however, the jury was so outraged that it ignored the plaintiffs’ request for $10 million in punitive damages and instead nearly tripled that amount to $28 million.

Defense attorney Michael Levangie of Prout LeVangie in Sacramento, Calif. did not return a call seeking comment.


The case alleged that Horizon West, owner of 33 nursing homes across California and Utah, delayed the diagnosis and treatment of Frances Tanner, a 79-year-old Alzheimer’s and dementia patient, for eight days after she fell and fractured her hip. During the delay, she developed a bed sore that was also listed as a cause of death on her death certificate.

At trial, the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that the facility under-budgeted for staff and kept staffing at the bare minimum.