I was contacted by a new client who was grief stricken over the loss of his 92-year-old mother. His mother, who was bedridden in a nursing home setting was found dead, the bed rail trapping her head between the bottom of the rail and the mattress. She had become entrapped by the bed itself and choked to death. Horrible!
Entrapment can occur when an individual’s head, neck, chest or other body parts are caught in the tight places between the rail and the mattress. Often, disabled or elderly persons cannot extricate themselves.
Every case begins with an investigation of the facts and circumstances. So, we started out by sending letters to the nursing home for copies of the patient’s complete records. It was revealed in those records that she did in fact have bed rails up as a precaution due to fall risk. That was good care. However, the nursing home refused to provide copies of their investigation of the incident and copies of any photographs taken in the course of that investigation. After a very short time, we had no choice but to file suit so that we could use subpoena power and the tools of discovery to get to the bottom of what happened.
One would think that this was a freak accident, as nearly every bed rail entrapment case we read about involved newborn babies or infants becoming stuck in their drop-side cribs. We were surprised to learn that this was hardly the case, as the elderly are frequent victims of injury and death from bed rails. According to the FDA:
…[T]he U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have received many death and injury reports related to both adult portable bed rail products and hospital bed rails. Most of these reports were for entrapments and falls. It is important to consider the bed rail type and whether or not a bed rail type product is appropriate when creating a safe sleeping environment that accounts for medical needs, comfort, and desire for freedom of movement.
People who want to be safe in bed should understand the risks associated with using bed rail products, take steps to ensure that they are installed and used correctly, and be aware that certain individuals should not use bed rails.
Adult bed rails should not be used as a restraint. They are intended to be assistive and should be used to facilitate mobility for those who need assistance getting in and out of bed or repositioning in bed.”
The FDA warning piqued my interest. Had any of these deaths occurred at the nursing home I was suing? Did the home know the risk of these beds? Did our client’s mother torturously die from a known and preventable cause? After all, it was a national chain and had locations in several states. Through painstaking research of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s archives, I learned that yes, in fact this particular nursing home chain had other reported incidents, one of which was a death in Texas under extremely similar circumstances with the same brand of bed rails. Further research revealed the name of the attorneys that handled the Texas case which had settled after litigation for an undisclosed amount.
We contacted the lead attorney who graciously provided us with materials that not only assisted in establishing responsibility on the part of the nursing home but also revealed that they were reckless and egregiously disregarded information about the dangers of the exact same brand of bed rails. As part of the settlement in the Texas case, the national nursing home chain was required to send warning letters to all its subsidiaries across the country to protect from the incident occurring again. There were several corrective measures that needed to be implemented including the use of protective pads that would have easily avoided the tragic incident from happening.
Documents from the corporate home offices revealed a series of emails and letters warning the various nursing home directors of the corrective measures needed. Through tenacious pursuit we secured copies of these letters and deposition testimony that in fact showed that the director at the actual facility where our client’s mother died had received these warnings months before the incident took place and had done absolutely nothing about them. They had not taken corrective measures, secured necessary protective padding, trained staff, or provided any kinds of warnings to their patients or their loved ones.
There are two kinds of damages in Florida, compensatory damages, which are monies awarded to a plaintiff to compensate for injury or loss, and punitive damages, those designed to punish a defendant for wrongdoing when it is determined that the behavior by the defendant was the result of intentional or egregious acts or failures to act. Once we were able to obtain the documents and testimony demonstrating the nursing home’s failings, we were able to secure a substantial seven figure settlement in the case for our client.
Perseverance and diligence are two of the hallmarks of exceptional representation.