NC Nursing Home Defense Verdict: Turbyfill v. SSC Spruce Pine Operating Company LLC

Turbyfill v. SSC Spruce Pine Operating Company, LLC

A Mitchell County, North Carolina jury recently returned a defense verdict in favor of Brian Center Spruce Pine.

In this wrongful death case, Plaintiff alleged that her mother, a three-year resident of Brian Center Spruce Pine, died of dehydration after nurses and CNA’s failed to provide proper hydration and nutrition.

Expert testimony was presented on both sides as to the cause of death and the deceased’s many co-morbidities including congestive heart failure, multiple strokes and renal failure.  The medical chart reflected that the resident may have had an additional stroke in the months leading up to her death resulting in multiple aspirations and pneumonias which were documented and treated.  In the weeks leading up to her death, the resident began refusing meals and liquids despite the fact that they were being offered (which was documented).  Labs taken the day before the resident passed away showed BUN and creatinine levels to be high, but the facility’s expert testified that this was likely from renal failure not dehydration.  The resident was given IV fluids, but unfortunately her congestive heart failure and renal failure made it impossible for her body to utilize and process the fluids to her organs.  The resident developed pulmonary edema and was given IV Lasix with no result.  Thereafter, she passed away.

In addition to the medical evidence, counsel for the Plaintiff attempted to put on evidence of understaffing at the facility allegedly resulting in residents not being fed and offered fluids.  Throughout the discovery phase of the case, this was a typical medical malpractice case.  Very little discovery was done by Plaintiff on the staffing side of the case and it was not until trial that Plaintiff began to argue about staffing.  Defendant brought its Human Resources Director and Administrator to the Courthouse to assist with coordinating at the facility to pull documents and personnel files of former employees and bring them to the Courthouse.  This proved to be an invaluable asset when responding to Plaintiff’s staffing allegations that did not exist until trial.  The personnel files were used on a couple of occasions to prove that Plaintiff’s former employee witnesses were not employed by the facility at the pertinent time.  Upon review of the personnel files, the Judge excluded the witnesses before they took the stand. 

Plaintiff’s new found staffing theories backfired when Plaintiff’s star witness recanted her understaffing testimony and stated, on cross-examination, that she was frequently sent home early when the facility was overstaffed.

The jury returned a defense verdict after one hour and forty minutes of deliberation, concluding that the resident’s death was not the result of any negligence on the part of the facility.

Plaintiff was represented by James M. Roane, III of Roane Law.
Defendant was represented by Lori D. Proctor of Johnson Trent West & Taylor, LLP and Leslie C. O’Toole of Ellis & Winters, LLP.


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