Defense Win in Nursing Home Death Case

April 9, 2024

Philip Willman secured a defense verdict for his nursing home client in St. Louis County in a case in which a resident died from a disputed cause of death. The decedent, a 71-year-old widowed white female, was a resident at U-City Forest Manor (UFM) from October 1, 2020, until her death on November 15, 2020. She was survived by her son, who was the plaintiff. The decedent had multiple health conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and ulcerative colitis. Her major depressive disorder was characterized as recurrent, episodic, and severe. She had undergone electroconvulsive therapy for this condition. The decedent’s medical history was significant for taking benzodiazepines for more than 30 years. She had developed a dependency on the medication and was abusing it. She had been admitted several times to rehabilitation facilities for detoxification. She had developed symptoms of Parkinson’s disease because of the diazepine use.

On November 15 at 9:20 p.m., an LPN reported that she was paged STAT to the courtyard. She found the decedent lying supine with shallow, faint breathing. She asked aides to make a copy of the decedent’s face sheet and medication list and call 911. She then, along with another aide, retrieved the crash cart and proceeded to do CPR until EMT arrived. EMT attempted CPR for 20 minutes or so but announced her expiration at 9:56 p.m. The nurse then contacted plaintiff and the decedent’s primary care physician, who gave the reason for death, and then notified management. She noted the decedent was last seen at about 7:30 p.m. A private pathologist completed an autopsy report and noted the presumptive cause of death was terminal multiorgan system failure from abdominal compartment syndrome (ACS), resulting from marked colonic inertia. He found voluminous retained stool with a massive rectal fecal impaction. ACS is a condition that occurs when the pressure in the abdominal cavity increases and causes end-organ damages.

The jury returned a verdict for the defense.