A Gwinnett County, Georgia jury awarded an elderly woman $1.3 million after a car accident left her in the hospital, and she developed severe bedsores. The trial lasted four days, but it took the jury just two hours to come to its decision. The woman, Elizabeth Dickenson, still has not fully recovered from the bedsores after her 2015 auto accident.
According to her attorney, she was not able to attend the trial because she cannot sit in one position for an extended period. Her testimony was delivered via video.
The Car Wreck
In 2015, Dickenson described as “morbidly obese,” and with medical issues ranging from diabetes, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism and a past bout with breast cancer, was involved in a bad car wreck. The accident not only lacerated her colon and fractured her ankle, but also affected her respiration and put her into hemorrhagic shock. At the time, Dickenson was 74.
She was initially treated at Grady Memorial Hospital, where she remained for three weeks before her transfer to Landmark Hospital. The latter is an acute care facility, and Dickenson required a high level of care, including gradually taking her off a ventilator.
At Grady Memorial Hospital, doctors noted a Stage II pressure ulcer, colloquially known as a bedsore, on her buttock. Shortly after arriving at Landmark, a wound care nurse determined Dickenson had a Stage II bedsore on one buttock and was developed another pressure wound on the other buttock. Landmark staff were supposed to turn her every two hours so that the bedsores could heal.
Unfortunately, Dickenson failed to become weaned from the ventilator during her two-month stay at Landmark. After she began vomiting and urine began to appear in her colostomy bad, she was returned to Grady.
By the time she got back to her original hospital, both bedsores had risen to Stage IV status. According to the renowned Johns Hopkins University, in Stage IV bedsores, “the area is severely damaged and a large wound is present. Muscles, tendons, bones, and joints can be involved. Infection is a significant risk at this stage.” Her records from Landmark indicated many gaps regarding how often and on which side she was turned. Dickenson eventually endured many surgeries to debride her bedsores.
Insurance Company Refuses to Settle
Her attorney had offered to settle the case with Athens’ Landmark Hospital for $600,000, but the hospital’s insurance company refused to settle. The insurer refused to pay more than $200,000 for Dickenson’s injuries. Now, it is on the hook for six times that amount.
The “Inevitable” Defense
Landmark’s defense attorneys argued that Dickenson’s bedsores were “inevitable,” based on the nature of her injuries, size and health history. They also argued that the record-keeping system at the facility had recently been put into place, and the staff was still learning how to enter information, accounting for the gaps. Dickenson’s lawyers said her injury was stable when she was transferred to Landmark from Grady, and only got worse while she was in the former facility’s care. The jury agreed, with one juror later saying they spent most of the two hours deciding on the case discussing damages.
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(This story took place in Gwinnett County, Are you also in Georgia? Visit our comprehensive Georgia nursing home abuse information site for a complete rundown of the laws and procedures for making an elder abuse or nursing home abuse case in the Peach State.)