On October 25, 2011, Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. affirmed an approximately $90 million award to the family of Dorothy Douglas who died after spending few weeks at a nursing home owned by HCR Manorcare in West Virginia.
When Dorothy Douglas was admitted to the nursing home, Heartland of Charleston, she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s and several ailments but was able to walk and speak well. After a three week stay at Heartland, she became seriously dehydrated and wheelchair-bound and subsequently died hours after her transfer to another nursing home.
The jury in this case awarded $11.5 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages back in August 2011. The jury also found that only 20 percent of Heartland’s negligence was medical. Based on the jury’s finding, the Circuit judge recently held that approximately $90 million award was upheld because only 20 percent of the non-economic damages, which accounted for about $5 million of the award, applied to the state’s medical malpractice cap limiting non-economic damages to $500,000.
Dehydration, which Dorothy Douglas suffered in this case, can occur in nursing homes when their residents are not provided the necessary fluid content their bodies need. Serious dehydration can lead to other injuries, such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, pressure ulcers, confusion and disorientation, and life-threatening electrolyte imbalances. Nursing homes thus have a responsibility to make sure that their residents do not become dehydrated by supplying adequate fluids according to an individualized daily plan, and to provide proper training so that their employees can recognize the symptoms of dehydration.
If your loved one is currently a nursing home resident, following up with the nursing staff regarding the risks of dehydration and ensuring that a specific care plan is designed and adequately implemented is one step towards ensuring that the staff is mindful of the needs of your loved one and is acting in your loved one’s best interests.