Jury Enters $16.73 Million for Family Injured by Nursing Home Employee Sent Home Intoxicated

Samuel Dale Graham was driving his SUV; his wife, Sharla Kay, and their two children were passengers. Another motorist, Alisa Prueitt, drove off the road, over-corrected and struck the Graham SUV, which rolled over.

Samuel, 37 at the time, suffered fatal blunt-force trauma injuries and died at the scene. At the time of his death, he was working full time for a hospital and part time for a private healthcare company.

Sharla Kay was 33 at the time and suffered spinal fractures at C-1, C-6 and T-3 as well as facial cuts. She missed several months of work and continues to suffer pain and limited range of motion in her neck and back. Her medical bills totaled $11,700.

Austyn, the 7-year-old daughter of the couple, suffered a comminuted fracture to the scapula, facial and orbital injuries to her left eye, a lung contusion and lacerations to her back. Her medical expenses totaled approximately $12,700.

The Grahams’ 10-year-old son Andrew sustained cuts and contusions. His medical bills were $2,300.

Prueitt was driving home from work at the time of this crash. Prueitt’s supervisor had sent her home because she was drunk at work. In the hospital after the collision, Prueitt’s blood-alcohol level was tested at .40 which is more than 5 times the legal limit.

Prueitt later pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter among other traffic charges and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Sharla Kay individually and on behalf of her husband’s estate and for her children sued Prueitt and her employer Senior Living Properties LLC, which owned and operated the nursing home facility where Prueitt worked. The plaintiffs maintained that Prueitt was negligent for driving while intoxicated.

The lawsuit against Senior Living alleged negligent retention, negligence and gross negligence. The plaintiffs claimed that the nursing director and the staff at the facility where Prueitt was working as a nurse’s aide were aware that she was frequently drunk and that on several occasions, including the date of this incident, Prueitt had been sent home because staff noticed that she was too drunk to do her duties.

The Graham family presented evidence that Senior Living had a policy requiring testing of employees suspected of drug or alcohol abuse and termination of those found to be working while under the influence. Despite this policy, the Graham family claimed that the facility chose not to test Prueitt or discharge her after prior incidents in which she was sent home for being drunk. The Grahams’ nursing home expert testified that the facility was grossly negligent both for retaining an employee with a history of alcohol abuse and for permitting her to drive home while under the influence of alcohol.

Senior Living argued that Prueitt was the sole cause of the incident in subsequent catastrophic injuries to the Graham family, including the death of Samuel Dale Graham. The company denied that its facility knew that Prueitt was drunk and argued that she was sent home because she appeared “unfocused.”

Senior Living also argued that Prueitt began drinking after she left the facility on the date of the incident and that on previous occasions, she was suspected of being on prescription medications, not drunk.

Before the trial, the Graham family made a demand of $7.2 million. Prueitt offered her policy limits on her automobile policy of $60,000 and Senior Living offered $100,000. These offers were rejected by the Graham family.

The jury allocated fault at 65% to Senior Living and 35% to Prueitt. The jury entered its verdict of $16.73, million which included $7.04 million to Sharla Kay, $4.57 million to Austyn, $4.37 million to Andrew, $350,000 to each parent and another $2,700 to the estate of Samuel Dale Graham for burial expenses.

This jury verdict also included $5 million in punitive damages levied against Senior Living, which is jointly and severally responsible for the entire verdict under the law. Illinois also follows the same law of joint and several tort liability.

The attorneys who expertly represented the Graham family in this horrific incident were Laura Brown and Dale D. Williams. At the trial, the Graham family engaged experts in nursing home administration, toxicology and economics. The defendants offered a toxicology expert in their part of the case.

Graham v. Senior Living Props, LLC, No. 067-26911-13 (Tex. Jud. Dist. Ct. Tarrant County, Feb. 4, 2015).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling nursing home abuse cases, nursing home negligence cases, trucking accident cases, automobile accident cases and motorcycle accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Orland Park, Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Vernon Hills, Evanston, Chicago (Rogers Park, Jefferson Park, Hegewisch), Crete and Blue Island, Ill.

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