Choking Verdict

The Albuquerque Journal reported on the jury verdict in a reckless nursing home case.   The Uptown Rehabilitation Center nursing home in Albuquerque allowed Peter Robinson to choke to death. Robinson had dementia and swallowing problems which restricted him to a pureed diet. He choked to death. Inside his mouth was part of a dinner roll and hot dog.

Investigators concluded the center failed to provide adequate supervision of Robinson. Staff was aware of his compulsive behavior of trying to grab leftovers from residents’ dinner plates. No caregiver supervised him in the dining hall. No one intervened when he ate the hot dog until it was too late. A jury awarded more than $758,000 on Oct. 19.

Most interesting, the Court imposed the “severest sanction” for “spoliation of evidence” and found the center negligent. The nursing home failed to retain the surveillance video that would have revealed the circumstances leading up to his death. The center contended there was no intentional destruction of evidence, just a routine practice of taping over such video every 30 days. The judge did not buy it.

“At a minimum, the Center was reckless in failing to retain the videos and it is not a far leap for this Court to conclude that the Center purposely allowed the videos to be erased because of their potential evidentiary value in providing the Center’s liability.” 

–Judge Joshua A. Allison

The destroyed video footage of the dining room could have shown who else was present at the time, whether the doors were opened or closed, whether food trays had been cleared. So the destruction of the videos prejudiced the plaintiff case “in material and significant ways.”