Elderly woman's fall from hospital bed results in wrongful death suit

By Lawrence Smith | Oct 9, 2009

CHARLESTON - A Kanawha County man is suing a Charleston-area hospital alleging the carelessness of its staff contributed to the wrongful death of his mother.

Richard W. Hornick filed suit against Thomas Memorial Hospital in Kanawha Circuit Court on Sept. 23. In his complaint, Hornick, as the executor of the estate of Mary E. Hornick, alleges injuries Mary sustained after a fall from her bed in late 2007 contributed to her death six months later.

According to court records, Mary was admitted to Thomas' emergency room on Dec. 8, 2007 "with concerns of lethargy, difficult speech and the possibility of an acute cerebrovascular accident." After she was evaluated, including an inconclusive CT scan for a cerebrovascular accident, Hornick was moved to the intensive care unit.

Records show sometime on either Dec. 8, or Dec. 9, Hornick fell from her bed. The resulting fall caused a "deep cut to her forearm, severe bruising, a hematoma and cut to her head."

The fall, Richard alleges in his suit, may have either exacerbated the cerebrovascular accident for which Mary was originally treated, or contributed to a new one. Nevertheless, after she was discharged from Thomas on Dec. 9, Mary was transferred to a skilled nursing facility where she later died on May 5, 2008, at age 83.

According to her death certificate, Hornick's immediate cause of death was dementia with cerebrovascular accident listed a secondary cause. The manner of Hornick's death was ruled natural by her attending physician, Dr. Amy Lee Wirts.

In his suit, Hornick alleges that Thomas' staff failed to properly monitor Mary despite the knowledge she was in a high-risk category for a fall. Hornick maintains Mary, upon her admission to Thomas, met all the five criteria under the hospital's own fall screening protocol that she have 24 hour visual contact while in the ICU.

As a result of Thomas' carelessness and negligence, Hornick alleges, Mary endured pain and suffering that led to a delay in her recuperation and a restriction on her resuming her normal life's activities. Also, Hornick alleges he's suffered "aggravation, annoyance [and] inconvenience" that, among other things, led to him incurring over $40,000 in additional medical expenses for Mary's care.

Hornick seeks unspecified damages. He is represented by Christina L. Smith with the Charleston law firm of Berthold, Tiano and O'Dell.

The case is assigned to Judge James C. Stucky.

Kanawha Circuit Court, case number 09-C-1770

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