When a family sends their elderly loved one to a nursing home it is expected that they will be well cared for and will receive proper medical treatment. Unfortunately loved ones can be subjected to a variety of errors, including medication errors. Medication errors can include receiving the wrong prescription drug, inaccurate dosing, and other errors. If errors like this occur they can be considered medical malpractice.
In a recent case Freudeman v. Landing of Canton, an elderly resident of a nursing home was allegedly given the wrong medication which led to her death. Dorothy Freudeman was a resident of Landing of Canton (The Landing) from 2001 until 2007. In 2007 she was 80 years old. She suffered from Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and in 2001 had a stroke. In July 2007, an employee of The Landing discovered Dorothy in an unresponsive state. She was taken to the hospital where it was determined that her blood sugar level was extremely low and was severely hypoglycemic even though she did not have a history of either diabetes or hypoglycemia. As a result her quality of life was severely diminished. She lived for 15 more months before dying in October 2008.
Given the lack of history of diabetes or hypoglycemia the treating physicians suspected that a possible cause of Dorothy’s hypoglycemia was a result of ingesting anti-diabetic medication. However tests to determine whether there was such a drug in her system were never performed despite it being ordered. It was not disputed though that Dorothy’s medications were administered by The Landing’s staff.
Dorothy’s son, Dennis Freudeman, filed a lawsuit against The Landing alleging negligence, wrongful death, and punitive damages. Freudeman’s attorneys proceeded with the lawsuit under the theory that the anti-diabetic medication was accidently administered to Dorothy by the staff at The Landing and that this caused her blood sugar to drop. Doctors testified that that there was a reasonable degree of medical probability that anti-diabetic medication caused Dorothy’s hypoglycemia. Former employees of The Landing also testified, describing disturbing conditions of disorganized medication carts, pre-pouring of medications, and falsification of medical records. Additionally, medication error reports from 2007 were missing.
The Landing disputed that Dorothy was suffering from hypoglycemia in July 2007. They had testimony from two doctors stating that there could have been other reasons for Dorothy’s hypoglycemia besides anti-diabetic medications. The doctors were not allowed to testify as to an alternative cause for Dorothy’s hypoglycemia.
The jury was given a res ipsa loquitur instruction despite The Landing’s objection. The jury found The Landing liable for negligence and awarded Dorothy’s estate $400,000 for economic damages and pain and suffering, and punitive damages of $1,250,000 plus attorney’s fees. Additionally each of her children was awarded $ 70,000 for wrongful death.
The Landing appeal on this issues of res ipsa loquitur, judicial misconduct, punitive-damages instruction, as wells as a punitive-damages-cap issue. The United States Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s rulings on the res ipsa loquitur, judicial misconduct, and punitive-damages instructions but reversed and remanded on the punitive-damages-cap issue instructing that the punitive damages be reduced to $800,000.
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