Final Verdict: Staff Didn’t Cause Tragic Fall
Caring for individuals who can no longer care for themselves is always a challenge, even when the individual who needs care is a member of the family. When medical professionals are taking care of an individual with mental illness, cognitive impairments, Alzheimer’s, or another condition that makes them unable to properly care for themselves, things are more challenging. On the one hand, professionals have the training and experience needed; on the other, they may not be familiar with each patient’s individual needs and idiosyncrasies.
Raymond Jones, a 51-year-old husband from Lynchburg, Virginia, had recently suffered a stroke that left him confused, agitated, and prone to wandering. On May 6, 2013, he was placed by his wife Dana in the Guggenheimer Health and Rehabilitation Center in Lynchburg for long-term rehab. After strokes earlier that year, he had formerly been cared for at Virginia Baptist Hospital, where his condition required that he receive consistent, one-on-one supervision.
Tragically, Raymond wandered to a third-story window just hours after his arrival at the Guggenheim Health and Rehab Center, and forced it open. A nurse saw him attempting to exit, but was unable to restrain him, and he fell through the window, landing on the ground. The impact fractured his skull, broke ribs, and fractured his scapula.
Miraculously, Raymond survived. He was transported by ambulance to the ER at Lynchburg Memorial Hospital. The skull fracture had resulted in an intracranial hemorrhage and serious brain damage, including traumatic brain injury (TBI), ongoing pain, and permanent receptive aphasia (the inability to understand speech).
Raymond’s wife, with the assistance of medical malpractice attorneys, like Cohen & Cohen, P.C. sued the facility on his behalf, alleging that they failed to meet the ordinary standards of care required for a patient with cognitive impairment. During the five-day trial, she testified that Raymond had attempted to leave the facility repeatedly and had remained agitated throughout his stay and should have been sedated. The facility prescribed Inderal, a calming medication, but they did not have any on hand and were waiting to receive it from a pharmacy.
However, experts brought by the attorneys representing the facility argued that Raymond’s care was within the ordinary standard of care and the staff could not reasonably have anticipating him crawling out of the window. The facility had locked elevators and doors, and Raymond had been given a monitoring wristband that would signal staff if he approached an exit. Additionally, the window space was only designed to open ten inches; Raymond had been unable to exit until he had physically removed the entire window frame, something that no other resident had been able to do in the past.
Additionally, they argued that despite the severity of Raymond’s injuries, he had made a dramatic recovery, and any ongoing adverse conditions were the result of his original stroke rather than the fall. They made this argument in order to reduce the overall damages if the jury found they were negligent. After five hours of deliberation, the jury ultimately agreed with the facility that it could not reasonably have been expected to prevent the accident, and found a verdict of no malpractice.