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Jury Punishes Nursing Home

Mar 22, 2003 | Bettendorf News A Scott County jury awarded $362,000 in damages Friday to the estate of Ethel White after finding a Bettendorf nursing home at fault for allowing the woman to fall 18 times during a 30-month stay that ended in her death.

A 6-1 verdict reached Thursday in a Scott County District Court found Bettendorf Health Care Center negligent for falls and a slapping incident during White’s stay.

The award of damages the next day ended the 10-day trial of a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by White’s family against the care center and a business partner, Healthcare of Iowa.

The jury also said the care center caused physical and mental suffering directed specifically at White, a retired nurse’s aide who died at age 93, through willful and wanton disregard for her rights and safety.

The jury awarded $200,000 in damages for negligence and $100,000 in punitive damages. The jury also awarded $62,000 for a breach of contract, essentially refunding a portion of the money White’s family paid to the care center for her stay.

Attorneys for the family argued that a fall at the care center in January 1999 caused a hematoma, or a swelling filled with blood, in her hip, starting a chain of events that led to her death.

“They hurt her, they took away her dignity, and they killed her,” attorney Pressley Henningsen told the jury during closing arguments Wednesday. “It’s up to you to decide how to hold them accountable.”

Doctors at Genesis Medical Center had to treat the hematoma with a drug to counter White’s prescription blood-thinning medication, but a blood clot formed as a result and caused the stroke that eventually killed her Jan. 30, 1999, Henningsen said.

Usually, 75 percent of the punitive damages go to a civil reparations fund, but the White estate will receive all of the punitive damages because the jury found the nursing home’s actions were directed at White, Henningsen said.

“We’re very happy, we’re very satisfied with the case,” he said. “I think the jury did the right thing.”

White went to the care center because she broke a hip and was supposed to stay three months, but had a fall the day after she arrived and 17 more falls, ending with a Jan. 15, 1999, fall that caused the hematoma on her hip, Henningsen told the jury during opening arguments.

The jury also saw evidence that employees filled out forms to show they had taken White to the bathroom every two hours — even the day after her death and when she was in the hospital for her hematoma.

Attorneys for the care center refused comment on the verdict. They contended that no evidence proved the Jan. 15 fall caused the hematoma and the chain of events leading to White’s death.

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