Verdict Against Rest Home Isn’t Out of Line

A jury in Eureka, CA returned a verdict of $677 million against a huge, for profit, skilled nursing company who “takes care” of thousands of people due to the mistreatment of many of them. Spokesmen for big business immediately responded with outrage that this result was outlandish and called for changes in the tort system to prevent this off-the-wall result. The claim is that this will bankrupt the company and put 14,000 workers out of a job. This, of course, ignores the fact that the facilities in question will be taken over by another operator who will hire those same people (and, hopefully, some more, so the staffing can be adequate). Maybe these new operators will be a lot more patient-oriented so something like this does not happen to them.

As to the claim that this verdict was outrageous or outlandish or off the wall, consider this: there were 32,000 victims in 22 so-called skilled nursing facilities in California. That is an average verdict of $21,156.25 per victim. The trial in this case went on for about 7 months, so the defendants had lots of time to present their case. One witness, Cindy Cool, testified about going to visit her father, an Alzheimer’s patient, and finding him lying in urine-soaked clothing, time after time after time. The evidence was that the staffing ratios were not even up to the minimum required by the State, much less the stricter standards set by the Federal Government. After all, hiring nursing staff costs money and takes away from profits.

I have been in many skilled nursing facilities because a lot of the people I represent have been badly hurt and need those services. Some facilities are very good. Others stink and have patients being ignored all over the place. I recall one lady who was in the hall in a wheelchair with a 6- to 7-inch stalactite of drool hanging from her chin. How long should your loved one have to tolerate a stalactite of drool or urine-soaked clothes or a soiled bed for $21,145.25? Why would any good hearted person want to change the system to make it harder for people who are treated this way to get justice, not to mention harder to force those whose greed or incompetence cause this kind of inhumane treatment to be called on the carpet?

Right here in River City, one facility was closed by the State because the management and staff paid so little attention to their Alzheimer’s patients that two of them wandered off at night in the winter and were found dead of exposure the next day.

In some respects, Cindy Cool’s father was lucky, even though he was not in a good facility. He had a daughter who was devoted enough to drive from Blue Lake approximately 17 miles to Eureka to see her dad. Unfortunately, lots of people who wind up in these facilities do not have a Cindy to intervene for them. I cannot imagine what their lives are like, can you?

dugan-front

Dugan Barr has practiced law in Redding since 1967. He has tried more than 200 civil jury cases to verdict. He is married and has five children. The offices of Barr and Mudford, LLP, are at 1824 Court St. in Redding and can be reached at 243-8008.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment.

Dugan Barr
Dugan Barr has practiced law in Redding since 1967, primarily in the areas of personal injury and wrongful death. He has tried more than 200 civil jury cases to verdict. He is married and has five children. He can be reached at Barr & Mudford, 1824 Court St., Redding, 243-8008, or dugan@ca-lawyer.com.
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14 Responses

  1. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    With our aging and mobile population, we'd better get a handle on it . . . and soon. Aging, because the baby boomers (and the rest of us) are moving into the age bracket that most frequently need these services. Mobile, because many of our children do not even live on the same continent with us, let alone close enough to check in on us. So, if we don't have advocates in the system . . . . many of us will find ourselves up the tributary of defecation without an adequate means of propulsion.

  2. Avatar CoachBob says:

    AJ: There's lots wrong with Barr's article. First: the numbers. Do the math….32,000 victims….in only 22 facilities in California? Hmmm, that's 1,455 residents in each facility on average. Now, you and I have both been in these facilities (together, I might ad), here in Redding (not as residents). Don't know about Eureka, but being much smaller then Redding, I suspect their homes aren't holding 1400 + residents.

    Math #2: It's $32,000,000 (million with an "M") per each facility.

    Second: Barr LOVES this kind of settlement. He's a tort whore! He lives for big awards like this and justifies them with the numbers as outlined above.

    Third: Really look…LOOK hard…at the things this guy says. Don't take this liberal's opinion as gospel. If anybody has a dog in the "big award" fight, it's Dugan.

    Lastly: I agree with your points about the aging. You know I have a personal investment in these homes. So, when you get admitted to one, I'll be YOUR advocate, and I'll even play some tunes for ya. Just so you know.

    Love you….CoachBob

    • Bob Bob says:

      According to the Eureka Times-Standard, "There are approximately 32,000 people represented in the class action suit, including former and current patients and, in the case of their death, family members."

    • Doni Greenberg Doni Greenberg says:

      Bob, you are most welcome to leave comments. However, name-calling and personal attacks are not OK. This is a civilized site where we encourage intelligent conversation and even debate, but please do so with respect.

  3. Avatar A Sad Son says:

    Thank you SO much for touching on this most serious issue, Mr. Barr…
    I am a conservative – and I disagree with "CoachBob's" unnecessarily vitriolic, name-calling take as an apparent profiteer from the ilk you reference (Stop that Bob… it makes the rest of us look bad!)

    We know our mother met an untimely and agonizing death at a local, for PROFIT "rehabilitation" home in the Redding area. She was in for a few months to rehabilitate for a broken bone. We found her unattended, bed sores, etc, many times. We politely complained MANY times to the administartion. Remedy was short lived, then the same problems reemerged… our complaints to the staff and Admn. continued. Then, just a week before her scheduled release back home, she acquired a norovirus-like infection that killed her roommate just the week before! Our dear mother and grandmother had aspirated stomach contents because no nurse attended to her illness while she lied on her back.

    It took me and my family walking in for our regular cheery visit to find her gasping in panic for air, unattended – my two young daughters (7 & 13) were in shock for months after seeing their beloved grandmother literally dying for air and help. And it took me yelling, pounding on desks and cussing at the top of my lungs to the staff and Admn. to get a 911 call in to save her life! She died at Mercy hospital ICU a few days after the 911 call (year ago this Thursday). Mercy staff MD's were very SHOCKED to see severe bed sores on my mother upon intake and they took many photos. We never thought we could find remedy after this wonderful woman suffered so terribly…

    We are not a sue-happy kind and believe that there have been abuses of the legal systems – on both sides of tort-law.. BUT, sometimes, corporations and profiteers cross the line and – like any other criminal – deserve swift and harsh consequences. Is there a statute of limitations for a complaint to be filed? Who should I call if we can? I'm sure the "investors" in that so-called "skilled nursing" facility would breath – comfortably – a collective, oxygen-filled sigh of relief to know our case repeatedly slipped any detection…

    Thank you, Mr. Barr… While I might not vote for your presidential campaign, I salute your stewardship of our good community and families – and I would consider YOU in a heartbeat!

    • Avatar CoachBob says:

      Couple of points are in order.

      First to "Sad Son": I'm very sorry to hear of your mother's fate in a nursing home. I lost my father in a local Redding nursing home (that's not an indictment on that particular home…just a fact).

      But before you label me an "apperant profiteer" of the nursing industry, with absolutley ZERO idea of who I am or what I do, let me educate you. I am self-employed in the construction industry for 40 years in Redding. Never worked in the nursing industry nor to I buy stock in the industry. My investment, Sad Son, is I am a musician (like Adrienne Jacoby) and I provide FREE entertainment to the local nursing homes in this area. I don't make a dime!

      Now, who can you call re: statute of limitations? Well, Sad Son, get on the phone and call Dugan Barr! He'll take your call and your case. He'd love to. That's the business he's in. His number is–243-8008.

      Second: To "A News Cafe" that responds without a name to my comment above. I, too, can research a news article. Let's set the record straight again. Seems both you and Dugan forgot a couple of facts: There are not "32,000 victims in 22 so-called skilled nursing facilities in California". According to the Eureka Times-Standard, "There are approximately 32,000 people represented in the class action suit, including former and current patients and, in the case of their death, family members". Hmmm, that changes things just a little.

      Now, for the real numbers. Mr. Barr has purposely misled us as to the jury award. It isn't $677 million. "The total amount Skilled Healthcare is facing is $62.8 million — not $677 million — after a preliminary settlement agreement in the lawsuit against the nursing home company was presented in Humboldt County Superior Court on Wednesday"! This is from the Eureka T-S on 9-9-2010. Mr. Barr knew this when he wrote his hit piece in the N-Cafe. At least the reply by N-Cafe to my original post was accurate, as far as it went.

      Furthermore, in his original math, Mr. Barr would have us believe that $21,000 +/- would go to each "victim". Well, here's the "new" math:

      "Exact attorney's fees, which are subject to approval by the court, could include up to $2 million for out-of-pocket expenses on behalf of the plaintiffs' attorneys, with an additional amount of up to 40 percent of the estimated value of the settlement, some $20 million.

      Even if all of the total $50 million settlement were to go directly to class members, each individual claim would be $1,500 at most, a far cry from the $30,000 that each of the three named plaintiffs in the case are entitled"! Again, from the Eureka T-S. Keep in mind, Sad Son, that these 32,000 are NOT just residents but family members of those who have passed on. That can include sons, daughters, etc.

      So, in closing, Sad Son…let me remind you that I have a "personal investment" in nursing homes. Not a financial one. You should have picked up on that but you seemed to be overcome by the emotion of the moment. I understand that. I won't ever say the nursing homes are all good. I've seen many problems many times. Just remember the numbers…and the 'spin' some folks seem to need to put on things. Most of that money (if it ever gets paid out) will go to everyone BUT those hurt by these problems. The tort lawyers (ambulance chasers) are going to take the majority of it.

      Again, give Barr & Mudford a call. This is what they do, 24/7! There's others in the area, also.

      • Bob Bob says:

        According to the Eureka Times-Standard, the original jury award WAS $677 million, and that is exactly what Mr. Barr wrote. Mr. Barr's article was concerned with justifying that amount, not about what eventually was settled for.

        • Avatar Deborah Calvert says:

          I can definately justify that amount in my case against Sun Healthcare Group Inc, who had been placed under a Calif state injunction in 2001 after 3 patients died during a heat wave in Burlingame, Calif (Northern California) without HVAC in patient rooms. In 2003 my mother, Evelyn Calvert, was living in a Newport Beach facility where the OSHPD agency had come in and condemned the HVAC system to patient rooms in May, 2003. We begged the DOJ -BMFEA who enforce the injunction, for help, but Claude Vanderwold told Dolores Otting and I in a telephone conference call that it'd take too long to get Sun into court to enforce the injunction and wouldn't assist us more than that. We begged the Dept of Health, documented every single incident, went before the city council, even asked the Mayor to write a letter to the CEO of Sun, and he did, asking him to stop the elder abuse and fix the equipment. Too late for my mom and 3 others who died from their fault June-Nov 2003. Sun simply transferred the license to another healthcare company, and avoided prosecution. How? Ask the DOJ -BMFEA. Read my blogsite at http://www.sunhealthcaregroupinc.blogspot.com There is corruption in the air!

        • Avatar Jeffersonian says:

          Deborah,

          This website serves Northern California, and many of us might take offense to your description of Burlingame. I know Bay Area folks love to call their area Norcal — but doing so only marginalizes those of us living in that 300 mile span between them and Oregon…

      • Avatar A Happier Son says:

        Thank you so much for the appreciated phone number "CoachBob! Now that I know who you are, giving that phone number to ANewsCafe' readers was perhaps one of the BEST coaching and/or gigging jobs you've ever done!! 😉
        All kidding aside, I will call Duggan straight away!!!

        In all fairness though, thank you for your condolences – you sincerely have mine for your dad as well. However, I strongly suspect he wasn't killed by neglectful "skilled-nursing workers" or administrators. Thanks again for the tip!

  4. Avatar CoachBob says:

    I guess my Droid isn't sending emails like I thought. Here goes…last one. Dugan referred to the $677 knowing full well it had been reduced. He was trying to justify an amount that had already been deemed 'unjust'. And, that isn't all he was referring to. He twisted the number of 'residents' when, in fact, per the Eureka T-S, that many of the recipients of any award will be family members, too. Not just residents.

    And, if the award is in the neighborhood of $60M, most of it will go to –wait for it–ATTORNEYS! A partly $1500 to those individuals that are left. Hardly seems worth the trouble from a $$ standpoint. Of course, forcing changes in the poor system is always a good thing.

    Last: I puzzled why you (editor) seem so hell-bent of defending Barr? He's a big boy (understatement), and can speak for himself. He's a pro at speaking. You seem totally defensive over my comments that aren't about you.

    Go figure.

    In any event…the good news is that a poorly run outfit may just change their ways. I hope they're alot better here in town.

    Thanks for reading this far.

    CoachBob

    • Dugan Barr Dugan Barr says:

      Coach Bob:

      Too bad you chose not to put your name on your posts. It is easy to take shots from behind a disguise. If you did put your name, I could contact you and we could have a discussion about all of this. But you have my name and number and can call me if you want.

      I did not know about the settlement, but am not surprised that it settled. It does the victims little good to bankrupt the company.

      I did not say there were 32,000 patients. I said there were 32,000 victims. If you think that someone who watches helplessly because a beloved family member that they do not have the skills or resources to care for dies due to the neglect of those who are getting paid for that care is not a victim, you have a strange set of values.

      To be clear, I have nothing to do with the case in Eureka. I was simply pointing out that there were some reasons for the size of the award and that it did not mean the system is broken.

      You seem outraged at the amount the lawyers will get, yet point out that they spent about $2,000,000 of their own money putting the case together. The trial took 7 months. You can bet that there were many hours spent on the case for every hour that was used by the trial. Had the case been lost, the lawyers would have lost their $2,000,000 and gotten nothing for the time they spent working on the case. During that time, their rent, light bills, staff salaries etc had to be paid. In short, the lawyers took a huge risk. If they had lost the case, they would be spending the next many years digging out of the hole they would be in.

  5. Avatar Deborah Calvert says:

    The sad news is Skilled Healthcare will probably still provide shoddy care under a state injunction. Sun Healthcare Group Inc did just that to Newport Beach residents in a Sunbridge facility in October 2003 that led to the deaths of 4 patients including my mother. We begged the DOJ -BMFEA to help us in June 2003 yet Claude Vanderwold said it'd take too long to get Sun into court to enforce the injunction. Fernando Rodriguez, Admin of Sun, told me if I didn't like the way they under staffed I could take my mother and leave. I would have but there weren't any other beds available in any of the local nursing homes and she was too bed ridden for me to care for at home any longer (I'd done it 6 yrs). So I visited 3 x daily and found an absolute horror. A nightmare. Read my story at http://www.sunhealthcaregroupinc.blogspot.com

    They not only made sure my mother suffered, but killed her, I have no doubt. Then cheated me out of wrongful death, which forced me to sue my former attorney for the malpractice and he died 2 weeks after learning from Defense Counsel I retained Andres & Andres to sue him, in his sleep at age 59 of unknown causes.

    Yep, these Billion Dollar Nursing Home Chains are lining their pockets with the money while under staffing. They are the real scum of the earth.

    Deb Calvert, Newport Beach, California

  6. Avatar Deborah Calvert says:

    The CEO of Sun, Rick Matros, even sent an employee, Julie Campbell, to apologize for a stroke their known broken equipment caused in Oct 2003. She met with me on weekends, gave me her business card, told me to call her at home anytime. Sun was terrified obviously they'd lose their $2 B Annual Revenue Public Corp -my attorney had originally told me the CEO would lose his job for knowingly violating a state injunction while harming patients who died from it. Yet no authority wants to prosecute them for it. Why? Corruption.