Jury Holds For Nursing Home After Head Trauma Causes Fatal Injury – Donegan v. Embassy Care Center

A Will County jury found in favor of a Wilmington, Illinois nursing home in a wrongful death lawsuit in which the decedent’s family claimed the nursing home failed to provide adequate care. The not guilty verdict in Martin Donegan v. Embassy Care Center, 05 L 782 (Will County), came despite evidence that the nursing home had failed to perform a neurological exam following the resident’s fall.

The Illinois nursing home malpractice suit involved 53 year-old Martin Donegan. Donegan was a resident at Embassy Care Center due to his paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis. In July 2005, the nursing staff found Donegan out of his bed and in another patient’s room. While in that patient’s room, Donegan had fallen and hit his head.

While the typical procedure following any sort of fall is to perform a neurological assessment, which could include assessing a patient’s reflexes, gait, and general behavior, the nursing staff failed to do so. Instead, Donegan was simply returned to his own bed and a phone message was left for his treating physician. The treating physician failed to return that call and no further steps were taken following Donegan’s fall.

Donegan remained in his bed for the rest of the day and was found unresponsive at 1:45 a.m. the next day. An autopsy revealed that Donegan had died from a massive intracranial brain hemorrhage. His surviving family members filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Illinois nursing home, alleging that it had failed to provide proper care for Donegan following his fall. The main focus of the inadequate care was on the failure to provide a neurological exam following the fall and the failure to properly notify Donegan’s physician of the fall.

And while the decedent’s estate might have been able to show that there were some violations of the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, it failed to convince the jury as to the proximate cause. Under Illinois law, a plaintiff must not only show that negligence occurred, but that the negligence caused the injury in question. In Donegan, the estate contended that the fall and Donegan’s subsequent injury was the cause of his death; however, the defense argued that his death was unrelated.

The plaintiff’s medical experts contended that during his fall Donegan suffered from a coup-contrecoup injury. Under this theory, the force of Donegan’s fall caused his brain to bounce around inside his skull, causing an injury not only at the point of impact from the fall, but also at the points where the brain hits the skull. According to the plaintiff’s medical experts, this theory would account for the massive intracranial hemorrhage which was shown to have caused Donegan’s death.

However, the defendant’s experts offered up an alternate theory. The defense contended that Donegan actually died from a spontaneous brain aneurysm that was caused by his chronic high blood pressure. According to the defendant’s medical experts, this aneurysm was located deep within Donegan’s brain and could not have been operated on. In addition, the defendant’s experts sought to discount the plaintiff’s expert’s theory, arguing that CT scans of the brain injury clearly demonstrate that the injury could not have occurred in the way the plaintiffs described.

Based on its verdict in favor of the nursing home, it would seem that the decedent’s estate was unable to convince the Will County jury of its theory of liability. And while the estate had settled with the defendant physician for $15,000 prior to the start of the trial, it had rejected the nursing home’s offer to settle for $35,000. Therefore, rather than the additional $2.6 million it had been hoping to receive from the nursing home abuse lawsuit, the estate was left with only the $15,000 settlement for Mr. Donegan’s unfortunate death.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois nursing home malpractice cases for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas, including Chicago’s Wicker Park, Mt. Prospect, Alsip, Homewood, and Melrose Park.

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