Nursing Home Defendant Loses Bid to Exclude Nurse in Fall-Related Death


old man hospital bedCase:

Vicky Pruitt v. BROC, LLC, No. 4:14–cv–00006, U.S. District Court, Western District of Virginia; Oct. 9, 2014

Background:

Plaintiff is the administrator of the estate of a patient at Blue Ridge Nursing Center, which is owned by defendant BROC, LLC. The patient was at a high risk for falls and had a bed pan alarm that was supposed to sound when he got out of bed. In the early hours of July 2, 2012, the patient got out of bed, fell and fractured his femur. Nurses were alerted to his fall by his calls for help.

Following treatment for his broken leg, the patient was returned to BRNC. Eleven days later, he was found unresponsive and was diagnosed with sepsis pneumonia and dehydration. He died the next day.

The plaintiff’s estate sued BROC, alleging breaches of the standard of care resulted in his sepsis pneumonia and death.

Nursing Standard of Care Expert:

Plaintiff’s expert, Robin Taylor, R.N., prepared a nine-page report regarding the applicable standards of care. She documented at least five occasions in which the patient was out of bed without the bed alarm sounding or any documentation being made. Taylor said a reasonably prudent nurse would document each observation. She also asserted that the bed alarm was not turned on. Her opinion also discussed the caliber of medical care the patient received.

Consequently, defendant moved to exclude Taylor’s testimony and for summary judgment.

Admissibility of Nursing Standard of Care Expert:

In a memorandum opinion, Senior District Judge Jackson L. Kiser for the U.S. District court, Western District of Virginia, found Taylor’s report was a thorough evaluation of the evidence she reviewed, the opinions she holds, and the reasons she holds them.

“It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the type of ‘vague’ or ‘sketchy’ reports other courts have cautioned against,” he said. “The crux of Defendant’s objection to her report is to her conclusions, not the content of her report.”

Also, the judge said that the defendant merely disagrees with Taylor’s conclusion that the bed pad alarm was off. However, such a disagreement is not cause to exclude her entire testimony. Cross-examination on her conclusions is the proper avenue, he said. Further, a fact-finder must determine whether the bed pad alarm was on or off. It is not defendant’s place to throw out any evidence to the contrary.

Additionally, to hold that Taylor cannot testify because she disagrees with other witnesses essentially means that no expert witness can ever testify in any case, he said.

“The whole point of the adversarial process is to find out what is true and what is not,” the judge said. “Defendant’s position seems to be that, whenever an expert witness disagrees with a fact witness, the expert must be excluded because her opinion necessitates the conclusion that someone is lying. Nurse Taylor’s opinion goes to the facts; if a fact witness disagrees with her conclusion, it is the jury’s job to determine who is correct.”

The judge refused to exclude Taylor’s testimony and also denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The case settled on Nov. 3.

About The Author

Kristin Casler is a legal writer and journalist who served as the editor for LexisNexis Mealey’s litigation news monitor for 17 years.