TN Jury Returns an Award of $500K in Compensatory and $4.25M in Punitives against Nursing Home

Good evening. I regret to report that an Elizabethton, TN state court jury returned a verdict today against Life Cares Centers of Elizabethton for $500K in compensatory damages and $4.25 in punitive damages. I’ve communicated with PA, Chad Trammell of the Nix, Patterson law firm but have not yet connected with defense counsel. Below is a synopsis of the evidence.

Nurses say sufficient care was given to residents of Life Care Center of Elizabethton in reference to the Earl McLemore case in Carter County Circuit Court. The plaintiff, the Estate of Earl McLemore, states Life Care staff did not render proper care, leading to his death on April 22, 2005.

Several individuals, including five Life Care nurses and an expert witness, testified on behalf of defending counsel. The employee, who represented Life Care Center in court, testified that she took the initial phone call from Johnson City Medical Center when McLemore was transferred to the nursing home.

Prior to McLemore’s arrival at the nursing home at 3:30 p.m. on March 15, 2005, she said she spoke to a nurse at Johnson City Medical Center. She went over a note she wrote about the call, describing McLemore’s condition at the time.

Once McLemore arrived at the nursing home, nurses assessed the resident. The wound care nurse, explained her head to toe assessment of McLemore. She described the resident’s various medical conditions and pressure sores. Other Life Care nurses, said residents received assistance. Pizzala said she takes residents seriously and makes sure they get the care they need.

They also said they would regularly make rounds, walking down the hall and checking each resident. Both individuals said they would turn residents at least every two hours and check for soiled sheets and clothes. Neither nurse could specifically recall McLemore, but said they gave proper to care to all of the residents.

The wound care nurse, said the staff would follow the orders of the medical director, Dr. Jerry Gastineau, who testified on Monday. Nurses also testified they properly turned McLemore.

The director of nursing at the time McLemore was a resident, said no one ever told her there was not enough help at Life Care Center. The defense attorney asked her whether she falsified documents or added help when state investigators were at the facility, a claim made by witnesses on previous dates. She denied the accusations. She added that she never knew when the state would be in the facility.

The plaintiff’s attorney questioned another nurse about charting and a computer program which was implemented during McLemore’s residency. The program is used to cut the use of paper and continue to chart staffing issues and care for residents. The plaintiff asked why nurses did not complete information in the program. Miller said that nurses were trying to get familiar to the new program and using the computer. The computer program chart included the names of nurses for each resident, but did not include information about what care was rendered, according to the attorney.

The plaintiff’s attorney also asked the nurse if she could personally say McLemore received the proper standard of care. Miller said no; however, she said nurses "give good care" at Life Care Center.

Sonya Prins, an expert witness for the defense, said according to her research of documents and medical experience, McLemore received proper care at the nursing home. She said it is not common practice for nursing home staff members to chart every activity, including turning residents. Prins added that there may have been inaccuracies in charting.  During cross-examination, Prins noted that she did not know McLemore and did not witness the resident’s care.

According to PA, the case was not a wrongful death case. The residency was 13 days and the clinical issues were a stage IV decub, UTI, dehydration and sepsis in a PEG tube resident. The evidence regarding punitive damages was the Life Care tax return.

I will keep you fully updated as I receive more information.

Rebecca Adelman

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