A Virginia jury has recently awarded a man’s estate $1.45 million. The lawsuit was commenced after an incident where the man, Joseph Roberts, suffered severe burns two years ago during his stay at Carriage Hill Health & Rehab Center. Prior to his death in June, due to unrelated health issues, Roberts filed a negligence lawsuit against the nursing home in November 2011.
Roberts suffered second- and third-degree burns on June 3, 2011. His sweatpants had caught fire when he was smoking a cigarette, in a wheelchair, unattended outside the nursing home. The nursing home staff found Roberts with his clothes on fire, on the ground. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that the facility was not properly monitoring and caring for Roberts. As a result of the incident, Roberts was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) at VCU Medical Center in Richmond. The medical expenses he accumulated during his stay exceeded $600,000.
While, according to the lawsuit, Roberts did not comply with the nonsmoking policy of the nursing home during his previous stay early in 2011, he was nevertheless readmitted for the stay during which the negligence occurred. The lawsuit alleges that he was readmitted to the facility for purpose of making money, even though he was a danger not only to himself but to the other residents because of his addiction to smoking.
One issue in the lawsuit was how Roberts’ sweatpants caught fire. He had been taken outside by a staff member. That staff member knew he was going to smoke but Roberts was left alone anyway. Apparently a burning ember fell from his cigarette and it is possible that the mulch at his feet caught fire and then it spread to his clothes. Roberts had a history of back problems, stokes, arm paralysis, poor safety awareness, and leg numbness. He was also in a wheelchair and did not have the ability to escape the fire. The lawsuit also alleged that pain medication had impaired his mental and physical abilities.
The nursing home said that given Roberts’ mental health problems and his alleged suicide attempts, that the fire may have been started intentionally with his lighter. They alleged that ashes, cigarette heads, and cigarettes themselves would not cause clothing to become engulfed by flames within minutes as it was described by Roberts.
Virginia caps what a plaintiff can obtain for a medical malpractice awards at $2 million for actions that occurred in 2011. Roberts’ estate was awarded by the jury $1.28 million plus $170,000 in interest. This award is most likely to be distributed to the close relatives of the plaintiff.
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