Nursing Home Negligence Resulting in Surgery and Permanent Disability
The Beckett Case
Ms. Beckett, a 74-year-old woman suffered a debilitating leg fracture after an aide was pushing her in a wheelchair at a skilled nursing facility without providing her with prescribed leg rests. Despite Ms. Beckett advising the aide that she was physically unable to hold her legs up on her own to be transported down the hall, the aide told her to rest her weak leg on her opposite leg rather than providing her with the requested and prescribed leg rests. When the wheelchair carrying Ms. Beckett suddenly stopped during transport, Ms. Beckett’s foot hit the ground and the impact resulted in a fractured femur. Ms. Beckett’s injuries have left her permanently wheelchair bound.
Ms. Beckett was a 74-year-old woman who was placed at a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation prior to receiving a revision knee replacement surgery. While at the facility, Ms. Beckett was without a knee joint, she had decreased strength in her right leg and was assessed as a fall risk. Ms. Beckett had a physician’s order to use leg rests whenever she was out of bed and being transported via wheelchair. After a brief stay at a medical facility for hypotension and confusion during hemodialysis, Ms. Beckett returned to the skilled nursing facility, but she was moved to a different room for quarantine due to COVID-19 protocols. This alternate room was down the hall from Ms. Beckett’s main living space.
Ms. Beckett made a request to an aide at the facility to retrieve some items from the room where she usually resided. One of the items requested by Ms. Beckett was her leg rests. The aide was unable to find any of the items Ms. Beckett requested, including her leg rests. Notably, the Therapy Department, which was one floor below, had a supply of extra leg rests, but the aide chose to transport Ms. Beckett to her old room in a wheelchair without leg rests applied to find the requested items. The aide did not offer to get a set of leg rests from the Therapy Department, nor did she request for any assistance from the nursing staff, even though she was aware that it would have been safer to transport her with leg rests. The aide also failed to discuss with Ms. Beckett any safety precautions, the facility’s policy on leg rests, the physician’s order, or any of the risks posed to Ms. Beckett if she were to be transported in a wheelchair without her prescribed leg rests.
Ms. Beckett was transported down the hall without support for her legs and feet and she was advised to lift her feet up on her own while being transported in the wheelchair. Ms. Beckett told the aide that her feet were getting tired from lifting them up for too long, but the aide advised her to place her stronger left foot behind her weaker right foot to hold them up, all while not stopping the wheelchair. Without any support to hold her legs up, Ms. Beckett’s right leg dropped to the floor during transport. There was an audible “pop” and Ms. Beckett was taken back to her room and placed in bed with an ice pack on her knee.
Ms. Beckett was ultimately transported to the hospital where it was discovered she had suffered a supracondylar right distal fracture to her femur. She required surgery to repair her fractured femur, which was completed simultaneous to the already scheduled revision total knee arthroplasty. Following surgery, Ms. Beckett was admitted to the hospital for an extended time before being sent to another skilled nursing facility for recovery and rehabilitation.
Prior to suffering a fractured femur, Ms. Beckett was expected to return home to an independent lifestyle following her revision knee replacement surgery. However, Ms. Beckett has remained in nursing facilities since her discharge from the hospital and has been confined to a wheelchair throughout that time. She will likely not meet further improvement or ambulation.
We filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Beckett against the skilled nursing facility responsible for her care and safety. Our firm alleged that the skilled nursing facility was negligent for failing to apply Ms. Beckett’s prescribed leg rests when transporting her in a wheelchair given her known lack of leg strength and despite a physician’s clear orders. We alleged that this caused Ms. Beckett to sustain a fully preventable injury and the facility failed to ensure her health and safety while she was admitted to the facility.
It is common for patients who are admitted to skilled nursing facilities to be handed an Arbitration Agreement to sign upon admission. This document essentially confines a resident at the facility to settle any matter in dispute, including claims for personal injury, by way of Arbitration as opposed to a jury trial. An Arbitration is a procedure in which a dispute is submitted to an arbitrator, rather than a judge or jury, for a binding decision on the dispute. The arbitrator is agreed upon by both parties.
As most any resident does upon admission to the skilled nursing facility, Ms. Beckett signed an Arbitration agreement upon admission, which resulted in the matter being resolved by binding Arbitration. While there are ways to legally combat Arbitration Agreements, we decided to move forward with Arbitration without objection due to the advantages that come with Arbitration. Arbitrations are much less costly for the litigants and can commence much sooner than a jury trial, which means a quicker resolution as well. It often takes years for a case to resolve by way of a jury trial. However, Ms. Beckett’s case resolved in just over one year because it went to an Arbitration.
Arbitration is also much less unpredictable than a jury trial. Whereas a jury trial is decided by 12 people determined to act as the fact-finders and decision-makers in a dispute, an Arbitration is decided by the arbitrator, who possess a legal degree and has experience in the legal field. With an arbitrator, the emotional aspect of a case is often removed from the decision-making process and logic and the law are typically the main factors in reaching a conclusion.
At the Arbitration, the Defendant skilled nursing facility argued that Ms. Beckett refused care and exercised her right to refuse any leg rests. However, this claim was contradicted by witness statements and deposition testimony that described a woman who always used her leg rests and, at times, refused to be transported without them. Further, the incident at issue occurred immediately after Ms. Beckett specifically asked for her leg rests to be applied to her wheelchair according to her physician’s orders.
As such, we argued that Ms. Beckett received negligent care due to the aide insisting that Ms. Beckett hold her legs up on her own without any support during transport despite her weakened condition. Defense countered by stating that Ms. Beckett refused to wait for her leg rests and that there were no others available to her. However, all witnesses involved stated that there were extra leg rests in the physical therapy room, and the aide testified that she could not even find Ms. Beckett’s leg rests when she supposedly refused them.
While the Defense argued that Ms. Beckett refused care, we took the depositions of employees at the facility and obtained reviews from medical experts, whom all supported the notion that Ms. Beckett did not have the physical strength to lift her feet for any reasonable duration of time and the rehabilitation facility knowingly went against a physician’s order by transporting her without leg rests. This resulted in Ms. Beckett becoming nearly immobile and reliant on continuing care.
In addition to the fact witnesses and expert testimony, at the Arbitration Ms. Beckett’s son and sister provided live testimony in front of the arbitrator describing the significance of Ms. Beckett’s injuries and the impact they have had on their loved one’s life. Ms. Beckett also testified to how the injuries she sustained at the skilled nursing facility have subjected her to a life of dependence and her intense desire to return home.
After hearing the testimony and reviewing the facts of the case, the arbitrator found in favor of Ms. Beckett and found that the Defendant’s negligence caused her harm. Ms. Beckett was awarded a substantial amount.