A nursing home attorney must be concerned with not only how a jury will see his client’s case. He also must worry about how judges will react to whatever verdict the jury renders. A 2015 appellate decision in a nursing home attorney case illustrates this.
On June 13, 2006, following a fall at her home, Mrs. Regina Ptaszynski was admitted to St. Peter’s Hospital. She had a fractured left hip and left elbow. She was eighty-six years old.
While at St. Peter’s, Mrs. Ptaszynski suffered a heart attack. That delayed the surgery required to repair her fractured hip. Mrs. Ptaszynski remained at St. Peter’s until June 24. She was then transferred to Mt. Kemble Rehabilitation. Mrs. Ptaszynski developed pressure sores and a fever. On July 19, 2006, she was transferred to Morristown Memorial Hospital. Doctors discovered that one of her toes was infected with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (“MRSA”). MRSA is a bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics.
The doctors treated Mrs. Ptaszynski’s infection with antibiotics. On July 30, 2006, the doctors amputated her infected toe. Still, her condition worsened. On August 2, 2006, she was placed on a ventilator. She died the next day.
On September 18, 2007, a nursing home attorney hired by Mrs. Ptaszynski’s daughter sued Mt. Kemble Rehabilitation. Among other things, the nursing home attorney claimed that Mt. Kemble failed to comply with its “responsibilities” under the New Jersey Nursing Home Responsibilities and Residents’ Rights Act. I’ll refer to this law as the “NHA.”
NURSING HOME ATTORNEY WINS 550K VERDICT UNDER NHA LAW
The case was tried before a jury. The jurors awarded the daughter $550,000.00. An appeal followed.
On appeal, Mt. Kemble argued that the trial judge erred by permitting the daughter to claim that Mt. Kemble violated its “responsibilities” under the NHA.
The NHA became law in 1976. It provided a “bill of rights” for nursing home residents. It also defined the “responsibilities” of nursing homes.
The “rights” of nursing home residents include the right to 1) manage one’s own financial affairs; 2) privacy; 3) retain one’s own physician; 4) have unrestricted communications and personal visits at reasonable hours; 5) food that meets religious dietary requirements; and 6) a safe and decent living environment.
The “responsibilities” of a nursing home include to 1) maintain complete records of a resident’s funds and personal property; 2) provide for the spiritual needs of residents; 3) admit only the number of residents for which it can safely provide care; 4) not discriminate based on age, race, religion, sex or national origin; 5)ensure that drugs are not employed as punishment or just for the convenience of staff; 6) permit access by legal services staff; 7) ensure compliance with all laws; 8) provide residents with written bills; and 9) provide the resident a copy of the admissions contract.
Under the NHA, as originally worded in 1976, a resident could only sue for a violation of a nursing home resident’s “rights,” not “responsibilities.” But the NHA was amended in 1991. The amended law provides that a person can sue “for any violation of this act.”
You would think that the 1991 amendment clearly give patients the right to sue for “any” violation of the NHA. That would include a violation of a facility’s “responsibilities. That is what the nursing home attorney argued.
APPEALS COURT RULING
But the appeals judges accepted Mt. Kemble’s argument that the 1991 amendment only gave patients the right to sue for specific things included in the 1991 amendment itself, not for what was already in the law before the amendment passed. The judges therefore threw out the $550,000.00 jury verdict.
I strongly disagree with this decision. You can review it here and decide for yourself.
It is important to remember that there are many ways for a nursing home attorney to sue a facility for nursing home abuse. A lawsuit under the NHA “responsibilities” clause is not the only way for a nursing home attorney to get a victim compensation. If you or a loved one has suffered nursing home abuse, please contact us immediately. There are deadlines to take legal action.