Jury compensates family for nursing home’s neglect

A jury found Life Care Centers of America guilty of negligence. The jury awarded $1.5 million in compensatory damages to the family of a former resident who died as a result of the nursing home’s neglect and negligence.

Life Care Centers of America was sued by Dennis Matthews, son of the late Verdie Matthews. He proved the nursing home allowed Mrs. Matthews to develop severe dehydration and malnutrition which caused her death.

Thomas Hornbuckle, attorney for Matthews, alleged the nursing home intentionally acted recklessly by falsifying fluid and nutrition records of Mrs. Matthews. Hornbuckle said evidence and witnesses had proved Life Care acted negligently and was at fault in the death of Mrs. Matthews.

Mrs. Matthews, 83, was a resident of the facility from the beginning of April 2006 to May 1, 2006. She was admitted to Bradley Memorial Hospital on May 1, 2006, and died on May 4, 2006. Medical records indicate at the time of admission to the nursing home Mrs. Matthews weighed 105 pounds. At the time of her death four weeks later, she weighed 92 pounds.

Attorney Steve Hornbuckle confirmed the jury found Life Care Centers guilty of negligence in contributing to the death of Mrs. Matthews.   The jury also found the nursing home acted “recklessly,” according to Hornbuckle.

The jury will reconvene Monday morning to deliberate on awarding punitive damages. Both attorneys will be given a chance to argue the case.

Jury will decide punitve damages.

Life Care hit with $10 million in punitive damages (07/01/08 Cleveland Daily Banner) By Linda Womack

A Bradley Circuit Court jury awarded $10 million in punitive damages Monday to the family of a late Cleveland woman suing Life Care Centers of America.

On Friday, the jury awarded the family $1.5 million in compensatory damages after it found the nursing home was negligent and reckless in the care of 83-year-old Verdie Matthews, who died less than four days after leaving Life Care.

A jury of four men and eight women deliberated Monday in the second phase of the trial to determine the outcome of the $30 million lawsuit brought by Mrs. Matthews’ son, Dennis.

Mrs. Matthews had been admitted to the nursing home for short-term rehabilitation therapy from April 4, 2006, to May 1, 2006.

Her son alleged in his lawsuit that the nursing home allowed his mother to develop severe dehydration and severe malnutrition which ultimately played a role in her death on May 4, 2006. Medical records indicate at the time of admission to Life Care, Mrs. Matthews weighed 105 pounds. At the time of her death four weeks later, she weighed 92 pounds.

The trial lasted for 11 days. Witnesses included Mrs. Matthews’ children, Life Care employees and medical experts.

Throughout the trial, Mr. Matthews’ attorney, Thomas Hornbuckle, argued the nursing home falsified fluid and nutrition intake records for Mrs. Matthews and did not properly feed and hydrate her.

Rick Powers, attorney for Life Care, argued Mrs. Matthews’ health was in a state of decline before she was admitted to the nursing home and Life Care was not liable for her death.

The jury deliberated for about nine hours Friday, before finding Life Care negligent in Mrs. Matthews’ care and that the nursing home acted recklessly in her care. This verdict led to the second phase of the trial, which was to determine punitive damages.
Life Care Chief Financial Officer James Ziegler presented Life Care’s 2006 tax return documents to the court Monday, before the second phase of jury deliberation.

According to Ziegler, Life Care has never been found liable for punitive damages, based on his knowledge.

Both attorneys were given a chance to deliver a second closing argument Monday morning.

Hornbuckle stood before the jury and said he hoped they would be mild and he wished no harshness towards Life Care.

He said he was asking the jury to “punish and deter; not to further compensate.”
Powers, asked the jury, “You want to put them out of business?”

Powers said Life Care can accept that a mistake had been made, but asked that the $1.5 million previously awarded be enough in damages. Powers also asked the jury to consider “the good” the nursing home does.

The jury had reached its verdict by 2:25 p.m. Monday afternoon, about four hours after going into deliberations.

Circuit Judge Ginger Buchanan read the verdict.

Powers asked for the court to poll the jury.

“Is this award of punitive damages your verdict?” the judge asked each of the jurors. “Yes” was the answer 12 times.

Mrs. Matthews’ family members hugged, held hands and cried as the trial had come to an end.

Hornbuckle said, “I’m very happy for the family.” He said the Matthews had gotten vindication for the “gruesome” way in which Mrs. Matthews had died.

Life Care officials indicated they would appeal the judgment.