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Jury Returns Verdict for Nursing Home In Resident's Death from Subdural Hemorrhages As A Result Of Prior Falls

On June 6, 2013, after a six-day trial, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court jury returned a verdict in favor of a nursing home in a case involving a patient who developed subdural hemorrhages after several falls and subsequently expired as a result of complications from surgery to drain the subdural hemorrhages. The plaintiff's nursing expert claimed that the nursing home failed to properly provide for the safety of this dementia patient, who was in rehabilitation. A STNA improperly left the resident in his wheelchair at a sink while she attended to another resident. In her absence, the resident fell in his wheelchair and hit his head on the floor. Subsequent CT scans disclosed the existence of both bilateral chronic subdural hemorrhages, as well as an acute subdural hemorrhage, thus requiring emergent surgery. The patient developed complications from the surgery and ultimately expired twenty-six days later. Plaintiff's experts included a well-known nursing home expert, the former Cuyahoga County Coroner and a neurosurgeon. The plaintiff's attorney asked the jury to return a verdict of $1.5 million.

The nursing home's attorneys, Beth A. Sebaugh and Donald H. Switzer, presented testimony from several nurses and the STNA, as well as the testimony of four expert witnesses: a certified nurse practitioner; a neurosurgeon; a neuroradiologist; and a neurologist. The defense contested the plaintiff's claim that it was improper for the STNA to leave the resident for a few minutes while he was sitting at sink in his wheelchair, washing his face and brushing his teeth, in order to attend to the needs of another resident. However, the major thrust of the defense was proximate cause. The evidence was fairly conclusive that the resident had developed bilateral chronic subdural hemorrhages as the result of a fall that occurred two and a half weeks earlier at home. The evidence supported that those hemorrhages were expanding and that despite the reference to an "acute" component by the radiologist who interpreted the brain CT scans after the fall, the reason for the surgery was to drain the pre-existing bilateral chronic subdural hemorrhages and not to address any acute subdural hemorrhage, which did not happen from the fall. The subsequent complications experienced by the resident were a known complication of the burr hole surgery performed by the hospital's neurosurgeon. Therefore, the resident's ultimate death from those complications was not a result of the fall at the nursing home.

After a full day of deliberations, the jury returned a defense verdict - finding in answers to interrogatories that there was negligence but that the negligence did not cause any injury to the resident. The jury also unanimously found that the negligence did not cause the death of the resident.