$8 Million Iowa Nursing Home Payout Reversed

Two years ago, a North Iowa-based nursing home was hit with a stunning $6 million verdict in a lawsuit filed by the children of an 83-year-old resident from Buffalo Center.  Their nursing home lawsuit alleged unconscionable and intentional abuse. The jury’s landmark award gave the children $2 million for pre-death pain and suffering, $1 million for pre-death loss of full mental and physical capability, $1 million for loss of relationship, and $2 million in punitive damages.

The nursing home appealed – they always appeal – alleging the trial judge, Judge James W. Drew, mistakenly allowed evidence of one employee’s intentional abuse that was central to the claims, was hearsay.  Sadly, the Iowa Court of Appeals agreed this week and sent the case back to Buffalo Center for a new trial.

Facts of Timely Mission Nursing Home v. Arends

A woman suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s disease moved into Timely Mission’s nursing home. Initially, she was designated as needing assistance, but six months later, she was considered an independent ambulator. Two years later, she fell without serious injury. Two months later, another fall led to a hip and shoulder fracture, leading to her death in less than a week.

The estate filed a nursing home lawsuit against Timely Mission, accusing it of negligence and abuse, leading to Weaver’s wrongful death. It argued that a nursing assistant’s alleged mistreatment and abuse of Weaver affected the woman and made her reluctant to ask for help, which is beyond horrible.

During the trial, Timely Mission objected to evidence relating to the nursing assistant’s alleged physical and verbal abuse, as well as the suggestion that the woman fell due to her fear of this awful woman. These objections were mostly overruled.

Multiple staff members testified about how awful the nursing assistant was to this woman and other residents. Expert witnesses for the Estate explained what really don’t need an expert to understand: abuse could lead residents to feel threatened, become withdrawn, and be less likely to ask for assistance. They also discussed the use of state documents, such as abuse reports, in forming their opinions.

After a nine-day trial, the jury awarded the Estate $6 million, including punitive damages. They were angry, as you probably are reading this, to hear how this woman was treated. Timely Mission then filed for a new trial and judgment notwithstanding the verdict, claiming that the court wrongly allowed inadmissible and prejudicial evidence and challenges the inclusion of state documents that indicated abuse at the facility. The court decided to reverse and remand for a new trial due to the admission of inadmissible evidence.

Hearsay Issue on Appeal

Under Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.802 and similar versions of the law in every state, hearsay statements are excluded unless they qualify for an exception. Hearsay, defined by Rule 5.801(c), is a statement that the declarant does not make while testifying at the current trial or hearing, and that a party presents to confirm the statement’s content.

Timely Mission is contesting the statements given by six witnesses regarding Blakesley’s behaviour towards the residents, excluding the decedent.

The nursing home argued that these statements should have been dismissed as hearsay and that the claims regarding the conduct towards residents other than the decedent were unduly prejudicial and represent inadmissible evidence of prior misconduct.

Estate Argument #1: The Objections Were Not Made

The family disputes the preservation of error in Brandt’s statements about abuse towards other residents than the victim, arguing they were made before the standing objection that was established. Normally, issues must be raised and decided by the trial judge before being decided on appeal. However, it is clear that the district court was aware of the issue and had addressed it from the start of the case.

On this issue, it is easy to like the court’s opinion. Everyone knew this was an ongoing issue so you do not want lawyers having to object to similar questions that the court has already decided will be allowed.

Estate Argument #2: Hearsay Was to Show Lack of Response Not Truth of the Matter

The Estate argued that statements about the nursing assistant’s abusive conduct towards other residents were admissible because they were not used to evidence the truth of the claims but instead to show Timely Mission’s lack of response to reported abuse.

Additionally, the Estate suggested that the evidence should be admissible due to the statements being made by Timely Mission employees about issues related to their employment. But the trial court found that the evidence in question, including some of didn’t fall under this rule. So the Estate could not establish that the statements were necessary for employment and made for that purpose.

Court of Appeals of Iowa Reverses $8 Million Award

In conclusion, the court found these statements to be inadmissible hearsay and presumed prejudice, leading to a reversal of the verdict and a remand for a new trial. Sadly, this erased this landmark nursing home verdict and there will be a new trial where this evidence is not admitted.

Iowa Nursing Home Negligence Verdicts

Below are summaries of recently settlements and verdicts from Iowa cases alleging nursing home negligence, abuse and/or malpractice.

$6,000,000 Verdict (2022 Iowa): Elderly female resident was reportedly subjected to physical and verbal abuse, resulting in injuries and death, while a resident at defendant The Timely Mission Nursing Home. Staff allegedly grabbed her by the arm causing her to fall and fracture her hip and shoulder. Lawsuit contended the defendant negligently failed to prevent verbal or physical abuse by staff, failed to investigate reports of verbal or physical abuse, failed to perform an accurate fall assessment, and failed to have fall interventions.

$700,000 Verdict (2020 Iowa): A 90-year-old female, reportedly suffered a femur fracture which required surgery and died within a matter of days after she fell out of bed while being cared for by a nursing assistant at Edgewood Convalescent Home. Lawsuit claimed that the defendant negligently failed to prevent injuries, failed to provide appropriate care and staffing to meet the resident’s needs, failed to assure the resident’s needs were met, negligently hired, retained and supervised personnel and inadequately trained staff.

$500,000 Verdict (2019 Iowa): A non-ambulatory 83-year-old female, reportedly suffered, among other things, a skull fracture and multiple broken bones, and died after she fell from a ‘hoyer’ mechanical lift during a transfer by staff while a resident at defendant Good Samaritan Center Ottumwa. Wrongful death lawsuit claimed that the nursing home negligently failed to ensure the patient was properly placed in the lift/sling, failed to exercise ordinary care to ensure the patient was safe and secure.

$900,000 Verdict (2017 Iowa): Wrongful death lawsuit alleged that elderly resident died when she fell at the defendant nursing home facility, resulting in a fractured vertebra, and received inadequate nutrition and hydration and developed pressure ulcers. Staff then negligently allowed the bed sores to develop into a systemic infection which resulted in death.

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