The AHCA reported the following this week.

February 12, 2010 Vol. VIII Issue 6
Long Term Care
Arbitrator Rules In Favor Of Nursing Home In Negligence Action, Awards Attorney’s Fees

An arbitrator rejected February 4 a complaint against a nursing home for medical malpractice and other allegations, finding “the great weight of the evidence” suggested the resident in question “died of natural causes while on her nocturnal ventilator.”

Pursuant to the arbitration agreement executed as part of the admissions process, the arbitrator also awarded the nursing home, as the prevailing party, attorney’s fees totaling over $259,000. The cost of the arbitration was split between the two parties.

Jason Bring and Robert Strang of Arnall Golden Gregory LLP defended the nursing home defendants in the three-day arbitration. “The attorney’s fees represented a major victory for the defendants, and their award demonstrates that these cases are not without risk for the plaintiffs,” Bring said.

The surviving spouse and estate of Mae Frances Holmes Reed initially sued Heritage Healthcare of Savannah, LLC, which operates the nursing home where Reed resided, in a Georgia trial court.

The nursing home sought to enforce the parties’ arbitration agreement and filed suit in a South Carolina federal district court. The claimants then conceded that the case should be arbitrated and the district court entered an order compelling arbitration.

The complaint alleged that Reed died because her nocturnal ventilator was not connected per her physician’s orders. The complaint relied on an affidavit of a certified nurse assistant (CNA) who worked for Heritage Park but who was terminated roughly two weeks after Reed’s death. According to the CNA, the ventilator was not connected and the nursing home engaged in a conspiracy to cover up the incident.

The arbitrator found, however, that the evidence demonstrated Reed’s ventilator was connected and operating appropriately. The arbitrator also noted that no other witnesses came forward to corroborate the CNA’s allegations.

“In addition, [the CNA’s] credibility was seriously undermined by inconsistent statements that she made and by the lack of plausibility of her accounts,” the arbitrator said.