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While going down a ramp, a 79 year old nursing home resident fell out of her wheelchair head first. The injury did not seem at first to be severe. The resident complained of neck, shoulder and back pain, and was taken by nursing home staff to her bed with no further evaluation. When the on-call physician was notified, he prescribed narcotics for pain, but conducted no further examination.

Throughout the next day, the resident continued to complain of pain, while she refused meals and became lethargic. Additional pain medications were prescribed, but no diagnostic tests ordered. Overnight, the resident’s condition worsened and she complained of ongoing pain in her neck and shoulders. Finally, at the insistence of family members, the resident was transferred to a hospital, at which a CT scan revealed a C5 neck fracture. Several days later, the resident died of complications of the neck fracture. Suit was filed against the nursing home, nursing administrator, director of nursing, primary and on-call physicians, alleging that they failed to respond to the resident’s symptoms in a timely manner. The case settled just before trial for $500,000, despite the defendants’ contention that no medical intervention would have saved the nursing home resident. The case was reported in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.
This case illustrates a number of important points to keep in mind in cases of alleged nursing home negligence. First, is the unfortunate vulnerability of many nursing home residents. If there is a suspicious injury or death, further inquiry is justified and necessary. Second – though not strictly a legal consideration – is the importance that any caring family members of a nursing home resident, be vigilant toward their family member’s care at the nursing facility. Finally, as evidenced by the $500,000 settlement, is the recognition that the life of even an older and frail individual, has value which must be recognized by our tort system of justice.

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