In order to prove medical negligence, a plaintiff needs to demonstrate that the doctors or nurses operated outside of the standard of care, i.e. the regular level of care required in a given situation. If the plaintiff fails to demonstrate that the doctors or nurses acted outside the normal standards, then the court will likely rule that there was no medical negligence even if faced with a negative medical outcome.
Take for example the nursing home negligence case of Attorney General of Illinois v. Westwood Manor, et al. The case was brought by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office after an elderly resident at Chicago’s Westwood Manor nursing home facility died from burn-related injuries. The 81 year-old resident had received second and third degree burns after being bathed by one of the nursing home’s nurses. The case was complicated by the fact that there was over a two week delay in treating the burns. As a result of the burn injury, both of the nursing home resident’s legs needed to be amputated and she died less than three months later from related complications.
The prosecutor’s case, which was brought by the the Assistant Bureau Chief of the Medicaid Fraud Bureau, focused on the nursing home’s delay in diagnosing and properly treating the decedent’s burns. The decedent had been bathed by a Westwood Manor nurse on October 2, 2006. Following the bath, the nurse noted areas of pinkness and redness on the decedent’s lower extremities, along with some peeling along her right foot. The nurse called the defendant doctor to report the symptoms, who then prescribed antibiotics.
However, the doctor did not physically see the patient for another 17 days. As a result, she was not immediately hospitalized and treated for her second and third degree burns. According to the prosecution, the delay in treatment resulted in a dual amputation and was a direct cause of the nursing home resident’s death.
However, the defendants argued that the delay in treatment was reasonable and did not constitute nursing home abuse, a defense that was supported by the prosecution’s own medical expert, Dr. Daniel Brauner. An expert in geriatric medicine, Dr. Brauner testified that the standard of care for doctors in nursing home facilities is to visit the patients only once every month or two. In most cases, it is actually the nurses who provide the day to day patient care, with the doctors serving more of a consulting role via telephone.
The defendants argued that part of the reason no one realized that the decedent had suffered burn injuries was because she had a prior history of lesions on her legs and skin peeling. Therefore, when the nurse relayed the symptoms to the doctor he failed to realize that she had been burned.
In light of the testimony provided by both the prosecution and defendants, the judge entered a directed verdict in favor of all the defendants, i.e. the nursing home, the doctor, and the nurse. The directed verdict came after the defendants’ attorneys argued that the prosecution had failed to prove that any of the defendants engaged in criminal neglect. The judge concluded that the care provided was within the standard of care for the nursing home community and that the doctor had exercised appropriate professional judgment.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois nursing home abuse cases for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Burbank, Chicago Heights, Broadview, Hillside, and Alsip.
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