Chicago Nursing Home Negligent for Failing to Supervise Resident – $2 Million Awarded to Surviving Family in Estate of Sloan v. South Shore Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

A Chicago nursing home malpractice case recently received an Illinois jury verdict of a little over $2 million in Estate of William Sloan, deceased v. South Shore Nursing & Rehabilitation Center LLC, et al. 09 L 14819. Sloan was brought under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act and the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, with issues of nursing home negligence lying at the heart of the case.

The allegations of Illinois nursing home malpractice in Sloan centered not on below standard medical care of the nursing home resident, but rather on issues of improper supervision of the nursing home resident. Sloan’s ultimate death was the result of severe burns sustained after Sloan attempted to light a cigarette, but instead set himself on fire. His estate claimed that the fact that he even had the cigarette was a direct result of the nursing home staff’s failure to adequately supervise Sloan.

Eighty-four year old William Sloan was a nursing home resident of Chicago’s South Shore Nursing Home. One evening in 2004, when the nursing home assistants were assisting other residents to bed, Sloan was left alone in his bedroom. Unbeknownst to the nursing home staff, Sloan had obtained a cigarette and matches from an unknown source. As he attempted to light his cigarette, Sloan dropped a lit match on his lap and set fire to himself.

Sloan sustained first, second, and third degree burns to over thirty percent of his body, including his face, neck, arms, and chest. Mr. Sloan continued to suffer complications from the severe burns, which eventually led to his death 22 months after the incident occurred. Sloan was survived by four adult daughters, who brought an Illinois nursing home negligence case against the Chicago nursing home for their father’s death.

The main claim in the Chicago nursing home malpractice lawsuit was that the nursing staff should have been monitoring Mr. Sloan’s activity more closely, not only to ensure that he did not have access to cigarettes, but also to ensure that the was unable to light up a stolen cigarette. Sloan had a prior history of sneaking cigarettes and had received multiple warnings from the staff. The decedent’s estate believed this prior knowledge created a duty for the nursing home staff to prevent incidences like the one at issue in this lawsuit from occurring.

In its defense, the Chicago nursing home argued that a nursing home cannot be held responsible for having “eyes on” supervision of its residents 24 hours per day. It maintained that it had met the standard of care in supervising Mr. Sloan and was not liable for his injuries. The defendants further offered a theory that the decedent’s daughters were in fact the ones who had supplied Mr. Sloan with the cigarette and matches and were therefore partially responsible for his death.

Nursing homes are unique from other medical institutions in that one of their primary functions is in fact to supervise and monitor the activities of its residents. It is highly likely that a resident could be placed in a nursing home who has dementia, but otherwise perfect health. In this case, the main function of the nursing home would be to monitor and supervise that resident’s activity and ensure that he is not a danger to himself or others. Situations like this would never occur in a hospital or medical center, where the main focus is to treat life-threatening medical issues, not chronic diseases.

Therefore, the nursing home’s claim that it was not responsible for monitoring Mr. Sloan 24 hours per day is contrary to what many people believe is in fact the job of nursing home staff. However, nursing home malpractice law does not typically hold nursing homes to this potentially unobtainable standard. Rather, Illinois nursing homes are expected to have plans in place to prevent situations where the different residents could become injured, e.g., a fall risk care plan, or in as in Mr. Sloan’s case, a plan to prevent him from sneaking cigarettes.

And under Illinois law, it is not enough to simply have an appropriate care plan in place, it must also be followed. In the nursing home negligence case of Mr. Sloan, the South Shore’s staff had no idea that Mr. Sloan was in danger until after another resident came running out screaming that he was on fire. The fire was then extinguished by the staff using curtains torn from the cafeteria windows.

The Illinois jury must not have felt that the Chicago nursing home’s care plan, or its execution of that plan, adequately met the standard of care. It awarded over $2 million to Mr. Sloan’s surviving daughters, which included over $1 million in medical expenses and additional damages for loss of normal life, the decedent’s pain and suffering, and the loss of society suffered by his daughters. In addition, the trial judge elected to award attorney fees and costs totaling almost $400,000, which is an option that Illinois judges can exercise under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act.

Robert Kreisman of Chicago’s Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois nursing home negligence cases for over than 35 years in and around the Chicago area, including Barrington, Bartlett, Park Forest, Arlington Heights, and Glencoe.

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