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Court: Nursing Home Negligence Case May Proceed

Jul 24, 2014 - Nursing Home Neglect by

A case of alleged nursing home neglect may proceed to trial after the Wyoming Supreme Court determined that, although the claim failed to meet technical statutory and constitutional requirements, the defendant did not adequately raise such deficiencies.

Our Tuscaloosa nursing home neglect attorneys understand this was essentially a case where a technical failing on the plaintiff’s part was negated by a technical failing by the defendant. Given that many for-profit nursing homes have deep pockets and can afford a top-notch defense, most plaintiffs can’t afford to make such errors. This is why it’s imperative to take your case to a lawyer with extensive experience and proven success.

The case of Harmon v. Star Valley Med. Ctr. began as many instances of litigation surrounding Alabama nursing home neglect do:  with a fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that the average 100-bed nursing home in the U.S. reports between 100 and 200 falls every year. Unfortunately, the vast majority of falls go unreported, and far too many patients lack the capacity to report on what has happened to them.

Nursing homes have a responsibility to prevent falls by recognizing when patients may be at risk for such issues. They also have a duty to respond quickly and appropriately when they occur. Failure to do so may amount to negligence. While not every nursing home fall is worthy of a lawsuit, one that results in serious injury or death requires careful review by a legal professional.

In the Harmon case, the lawsuit was filed by a daughter on behalf of her mother, who was deceased. For two years prior to her mother’s passing, she was a resident of the defendant nursing home. One day, while she was being assisted out of bed, she suffered a fall. The nursing home staff reportedly waited approximately 12 hours before contacting emergency medical officials.

When she arrived at the hospital, doctors determined she had suffered fractures to both her hip and femur. She underwent surgery but died two days later.

When the daughter filed a lawsuit less than one year later, it was not properly signed. The daughter signed it and had it signed under “penalty of paying,” and this signature was “acknowledged” by a notary. However, it was not “executed under oath,” as required by state law.

The defendants responded, acknowledging the governmental entity portion of the plaintiff’s claim and denying most other assertions regarding negligence.

Following part of the discovery process, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing nine months after receipt of the initial claim that the lawsuit was defective because it wasn’t properly signed. The plaintiff argued she substantially complied with the legal requirements, and that the shortcoming of her claim was the result of a typographical error that shouldn’t require the court to dismiss her claim.

The district court granted the defense motion for summary judgment. This decision was affirmed by the appellate court but later reversed by the state supreme court.

While conceding the claim patently failed to meet the requirements of being under oath, the defense failed to raise a defense on this issue with specificity or particularity in its response. The court therefore reversed and remanded for trial.

Additional Resources:

Harmon v. Star Valley Med. Ctr. , July 16, 2014, Wyoming Supreme Court

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