A woman’s estate filed suit against the nursing home where she lived until the end of her life, alleging that a medication error by nursing home staff caused severe health complications leading up to her death. A jury found the nursing home liable in Freudeman v. Landing of Canton and awarded compensatory and punitive damages. The defendant filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law on multiple issues, including whether the court properly instructed the jury about the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and whether the plaintiff had made an adequate case for punitive damages. The court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor on the motion.
Dorothy Freudeman lived at the Landing of Canton, an elder residential facility in Ohio. In addition to her residency contract, she signed a separate contract for the administration of prescribed medications by the nursing home staff. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, Dorothy Freudeman received an incorrect medication from a staff member that resulted in dangerously low blood-sugar levels. This had a severely adverse impact on her health, until she died fifteen months later.
The executor of Dorothy Freudeman’s estate, Dennis Freudeman, filed suit against the Landing in a Common Pleas Court in Ohio. The suit alleged that the nursing home, through its staff, was negligent in administering the wrong medication, and that this was the proximate cause of the decedent’s injuries and a contributing factor in her death. The defendant removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. After a jury trial beginning in August 2011, the jury found for the plaintiff and awarded damages.
The Landing moved for judgment as a matter of law on several issues, including whether the plaintiff proved an essential element of a res ipsa loquitur claim and whether the jury properly awarded punitive damages. The standard for granting a motion for judgment as a matter of law is whether, considering the evidence presented at trial favorably towards the non-moving party, the only reasonable conclusion would be in favor of the moving party. The court did not make such a finding and denied the defendant’s motion.
A claim of negligence based on res ipsa loquitur requires proof by a preponderance of evidence of two elements: at the time of the injury, the defendant had exclusive control over the instrumentality that caused the injury; and the injury was one that would not normally occur with the use of reasonable care. The defendant argued that the plaintiff had not proved that it had exclusive control over all medications in the nursing home. The court found that the plaintiff had produced evidence of disorganized medications, an overworked nursing staff, and frequent medication mix-ups. It therefore concluded that a jury could reasonably find negligence even without evidence of exclusive control.
An award of punitive damages requires proof of malice or fraud on the defendant’s part, and the Landing argued that the plaintiff presented no such evidence. The court noted that the Patient’s Bill of Rights in Ohio allows for punitive damages, as does the plaintiff’s survivorship claim. The court found that the same evidence of disordered medications, frequent medication errors, and poor recordkeeping supported a finding of “a conscious disregard for the rights and safety” of residents, warranting a punitive damages award.
At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we help people in Maryland obtain compensation for injuries caused by nursing home abuse or neglect. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.
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