The Daily Report reported on the recent nursing home verdict in Valdosta, Georgia where a jury compensated the family of a neglected resident with a $7.6 million verdict after the man died from complications of a bowel obstruction he suffered at Heritage Healthcare at Holly Hill nursing home. The key issue was a lack of appropriate medical staff at the facility the night 71-year-old Bobby Copeland began vomiting and complaining of a distended abdomen in October 2012. When Copeland’s symptoms became obvious, the only medical staffer was a licensed practical nurse, who called an off-site physician assistant to ask whether to send Copeland to an emergency room less than a half-mile away. The physician assistant allegedly said no and ordered some tests, but it was only the next day that Copeland was taken to the hospital, where he died hours later. Had a registered nurse been available, she could have performed a skilled assessment of his symptoms and mental faculties. The nursing home had a policy of only using LPNs at night.
By the time Copeland got to the emergency room at South Georgia Medical Center, he was showing signs of having aspirated fecal matter in his lungs, and his stomach was severely distended. Copeland died about 12 hours after arriving at the hospital.
Heritage Healthcare at Holly Hill is operated by Lowndes County Health Services, a division of the PruittHealth chain of nursing homes.
The jury found the nursing home liable for both ordinary and professional negligence and apportioned only 20 percent of the fault to the facility, with the rest divided among four nonparties. The family offered to settle for $600,000 or $650,000 under Georgia’s offer of settlement statute, by which a party that declines a settlement offer and then loses at trial by at least 25 percent more than the rejected offer may have to pay the winning party’s attorney fees from the date of the offer.
The jury took about three hours to award $7.5 million for the value of Copeland’s life and $121,200 to his estate for pain and suffering, medical and funeral expenses.
The panel allocated 20 percent of the liability to the nursing home, 35 percent apiece to the physician assistant and medical director, and 5 percent apiece to South Georgia Medical Center and the ER doctor.