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Ambulance Company Sued for Nursing Home Resident Death

The family of an Illinois nursing home resident recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against an ambulance company after the woman fell from her wheelchair during transport.

This case involved the resident, Marjorie Stearns, her nursing home operated by Countryside Care Center, the medical transportation company, Ridge Ambulance Service and the ambulance driver Jerry Brooks. Marjorie was 89-years-old at the time of her death and suffered from dementia and frequent falls. In September 2009, she was transported to and from a dialysis facility by Jerry Brooks, working for Ridge Ambulance Service. Brooks maintains that Countryside never gave him any special instructions about Marjorie’s risk of falling and cognitive impairment.

On the trip back to the nursing home, Marjorie was seated in a wheelchair secured to the floor by wheel locks and a safety belt on her shoulder and hip. A lap belt was not used. Marjorie brought a book with her, which dropped during the ride back to Countryside. While trying to pick up the book Marjorie fell forward and struck her head on a metal object. She passed away two weeks later.

Marjorie’s son filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Countryside, Ridge and Jerry Brooks. Initially, an Illinois court threw the case out before trial, saying Stearns could not prove his mother was injured as a direct result of the Countryside’s negligence because the facility was not liable for the medi-van’s service.

Stearns appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which ruled that Countryside did indeed owe Marjorie a duty of care and breached its duty. Countryside breached its duty of care when it failed to communicate with Ridge and Brooks and failed to provide additional staff to assist Marjorie. The Court reversed the judgement and sent Stearns’ case back to a lower court.

Nursing Home Duty of Care

During depositions, Countryside’s administrator testified that she was responsible for all facility operations, including hiring transportation services. Because Marjorie was a fall risk, had a history of falls, and suffered from dementia, Countryside had a duty to ensure precautions were taken during medi-van transport. This could have been accomplished in several ways, either by communicating with the company, the driver, or providing an employee to escort Marjorie to the dialysis center.

Nursing homes have the legal responsibility to protect residents from harm and injury which is not limited to the facility campus. The relationship between a nursing home and its residents is unique, as residents are rendered dependent on the facility to prevent injury, giving rise to a duty of care.

Courts typically consider four factors when determining duty:

1. The reasonable and foreseeability of the injury
2. The likelihood of the injury
3. The magnitude of the burden of protecting against the injury
4. The consequences of placing that burden on the defendant
The Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District ruled that Stearns was entitled to present his theories of breached duty of care and negligence to a jury. Stearns is now permitted to file suit against Countryside for its negligence and liability for the wrongful death of his mother; he will likely claim that Countryside failed to properly communicate with Ridge Ambulance and Brooks, or to provide staff to assist Marjorie during transit.

The Illinois elder abuse attorneys at Pintas & Mullins have been fighting on behalf of injured residents for over 30 years. We provide free legal consultations to concerned individuals and families nationwide, and we never charge any attorneys’ fees unless we win you a settlement or verdict.

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