Nursing home settles wrongful death suit against it

By John O'Brien | Jul 10, 2013


MARTINSBURG – In the wake of a $90 million ruling against it, a nursing home chain has settled a wrongful death lawsuit against it.

On May 13, an order approving a settlement in Carolyn J. Geouge’s lawsuit against Heartland of Martinsburg and HCR Manor Care was signed by Berkeley County Circuit Court Judge John Yoder. Terms of the settlement were confidential.

Geouge filed the lawsuit on Feb. 2, 2012, as the administratrix of the Estate of Christina L. Frazier, who was a resident at Heartland for four years before she died in 2011 at the age of 85.

The complaint said Frazier was a resident from 2007-11 and while there, the staff failed to prevent pressure sores and infections and failed to assess changes in her physical and mental conditions.

The complaint, filed by two lawyers with Wilkes & McHugh in Pittsburgh, made claims of negligence, premises liability and breach of fiduciary duty.

In a motion asking the court to direct the defendants to give better answers to a set of interrogatories, it is shown that the plaintiff was alleging Frazier also fell while at the home.

Heartland of Charleston and HCR ManorCare were recently on the wrong end of a ruling in Kanawha Circuit Court. In April, Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. denied a motion for a new trial in a lawsuit that resulted in a jury verdict of more than $90 million.

In August 2011, the jury found Heartland of Charleston had failed to feed and care for Dorothy Douglas, who plaintiffs lawyers say died of dehydration complications after she left the nursing home. Douglas' death certificate listed the immediate cause of death as dementia.

The jury stated 80 percent of Heartland of Charleston’s fault was ordinary negligence and the other 20 percent was medical negligence. The jury awarded Dorothy Douglas’ family $11.5 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages. The trial began July 26, 2011.

The defendants are appealing the ruling to the state Supreme Court, arguing caps implemented in the Medical Professional Liability Act apply to nursing homes.

It is an argument the defendants made in the lawsuit filed by Geouge in a motion to dismiss filed in January.

“The purpose of the MPLA is to limit medical liability in order to cap insurance costs so that the citizens of this State receive the best medical care possible,” the motion said.

The motion denied the “essential” allegations made in the complaint and argued they were preempted by the MPLA. It also said wording in the MPLA makes it clear that the law applies to nursing homes and a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages should apply to wrongful death claims.

Though the terms of the settlement were confidential, the order said the settlement would be divided among Frazier’s three kids, with Geouge receiving 45 percent. Also remaining confidential was the percentage and amount being paid to the plaintiffs attorneys.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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