$1.5M Verdict - $400K Settlement MO
Verdicts & Settlements February 6, 2011: Parties settle minutes before $1.5M verdict [Missouri Lawyers Media]
The family of a dementia patient who fell from a third-story nursing home window received a $1.5 million verdict moments after settling with the nursing home company for $400,000.
But the settlement was just $50,000 under the statutory punitive damage cap, the plaintiff’s attorney said.
"When I heard $1.5 million and I had just settled for $400,000, I just about collapsed. But then I did the math and it was OK," said Shelly Dreyer, who represented the dementia patient’s daughter, who served as his guardian ad litem.
Robert Bibby was 58 when he fell out a window of a cafeteria at Levering Regional Healthcare Center in Hannibal on May 17, 2006. The nursing home was operated by Reliant Care Management Co. Bibby had been moved to the home that February after he had escaped from a previous facility, Dreyer said.
"That facility contacted Levering, because Levering advertised itself as a secure facility, meaning they can handle people who are an elopement risk," Dreyer said. Wandering and elopement, or escape, are common problems among patients with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. (I am quite sure â€œESCAPEâ€ is not part of the AA brochureâ€”Ric)
Dreyer said Bibby walked into a dining hall, where a nurse spotted him. The nurse was carrying her purse because it was the end of her shift, and she went to lock it up again before checking on Bibby. When she turned around, he had opened the window and had one foot out, Dreyer said.
"She grabbed a hold of him and was trying to hold him, and she couldn’t keep her grip," Dreyer said. "He didn’t have a clue what he was doing; he just wanted to go home."
Robert Craddick, counsel for Reliant Care, declined to comment for this story.
Bibby suffered several broken bones after his fall, including a broken hip and broken ribs. His daughter, Jean Fountain, filed suit as his guardian ad litem, asserting negligence against the nursing home, the management company and the owner of the nursing home chain.
Dreyer said the management company did not make any pretrial settlement offers but approached her after the jury asked a question during deliberations. Jurors wanted to know where the money would go after Bibby’s death, and Dreyer said the implication was that jurors were considering awarding a large sum. Then Reliant Care approached her about a settlement, she said. The matter was finalized in about 10 minutes.
"We were in the back of the courtroom and we reached an agreement, walked to the bench and said, ‘Judge, we have a deal.’ And the knock came," she said. She told the judge the deal would stand, and he read the verdict. It included $200,000 in compensatory damages, $1 million in punitive damages against Reliant Care Management and $300,000 in punitive damages against Levering Regional Healthcare Center. After the application of statutory caps on punitive damages, as well as payment to the Tort Victims fund, the verdict would have equaled $450,000, Dreyer said.
"I felt sick at first, but once I did the math, it was like, ‘Oh, we made a good decision.’ There’s no doubt they would have appealed," Dreyer said, adding that her client was satisfied with the outcome. "To her, the $50,000 difference wasn’t worth the appeal. She wanted the money to make her dad’s life better now, not two years from now."
Fountain has brought her father to her home in Taunton, Mass., and plans to use the funds to pay a full-time nurse, Dreyer said.
Nursing home negligence
Court: Marion County Circuit Court
Case Number/Date: 08MR-CV00582/Sept. 30, 2010
Judge: Michael Wilson
Plaintiff’s Expert: Maria Boltz, Elkins Park, Pa. (Nursing home negligence)
Special Damages: $73,000
Caption: Jean Simoes, as GAL for Robert Bibby v. Levering Regional Healthcare Center LLC, Reliant Care Management Co., Richard Destefane
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Shelly C. Dreyer, Michelle Boehm O’Neal, Katrina Richards, The Hershewe Law Firm, Joplin
Defendant’s Attorney: Robert Craddick, Reliant Care Group in house counsel, St. Louis