October 2011 Archives

October 26, 2011

Defendants to pay $90 Million in Nursing Home Negligence Case

On October 20, 2011, a West Virginia circuit court judge upheld over $90 million of the $91.5 million in damages awarded to a man in connection to the death of his 87-year-old mother.

Tom Douglas placed his mother in the Heartland of Charleston Nursing Home temporarily in September 2009. She suffered from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease and was waiting for a room to open at Heritage Center, a facility that Mr. Douglas felt was better equipped to care for her. After three weeks at Heartland of Charleston, the victim was moved to Heritage Center where nurses noticed sores and bruises on her body, and she appeared to be dehydrated. She was also unresponsive. The next day, she died in Cabell Huntington Hospital. The cause of death, the suit alleges, was dehydration.

Mr. Douglas filed a negligence lawsuit against Heartland of Charleston Nursing Home. Negligence occurs when one party does not fulfill its duty to another party, resulting in injury to the second party. In this case, the duty of the nursing home and its staff was to provide proper care to the victim, but they neglected to do so, resulting in her deteriorating condition and eventual death.

The damages award in this case is broken into two types, compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for lost income, pain and suffering, and medical costs. The compensatory damages were $11 million originally in this case. Punitive damages are awarded to the plaintiff as a punishment to the defendant in the hopes that the defendant will not act in the same manner again. The punitive damages were $80 million.

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October 18, 2011

Trucking and Driving Safely on Kentucky Roads

232052_semi-truck_2.jpgA recent report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) regarding the truck accident in which 11 people were killed brings to light again the safety issues of truck drivers and those around them. The recommendations in the NTSB report and other changes will hopefully make the roads safer for all drivers.

After a March 2010 collision in Kentucky killed a truck driver and 10 passengers in a van, NTSB began a thorough investigation of the accident. Almost 18 months later, the board concluded the accident occurred because the truck driver was distracted by his cell phone when he crossed the median and hit the passenger van. The recommendation that all commercial drivers be prohibited from using a cell phone, regardless of whether it is handheld or hands-free, while operating a vehicle, was sent to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Current rules already ban texting for commercial drivers, and a ban for handheld cell phone use for commercial drivers is expected to be ruled on this fall. The rule currently under consideration does not include hands-free calls, which may be just as distracting and dangerous as handheld calls.

Several other changes have been implemented or are being considered to help keep drivers in and around trucks safer on the road. In 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) added new regulations to make the driver of the truck more liable for both the operation and maintenance of the truck. Just as commercial carriers are graded, commercial drivers will be graded on factors including their driving abilities, accident records, and vehicle maintenance. For example, if the truck the driver is operating fails an inspection, or if the driver is involved in an accident or found to be fatigued or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it will be reflected on the driver's record. Too many negative reports can cause the truck driver's license to be suspended, effectively removing him from the roadways.

Some safety changes do not directly involve Kentucky truck or car drivers, but rather the road itself. Crossover barriers installed between highway lanes can help to stop vehicles from crossing over into oncoming traffic and causing deadly head-on collisions. These barriers do not always help, as was evidenced in the March 2010 accident mentioned above - the semi drove right through the steel cable barriers into oncoming traffic. But they have helped in other situations, and stronger types of barriers are being considered. The widening of Kentucky highways as traffic increases also makes the roadways safer for all drivers.

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October 13, 2011

Kentucky Road Fatalities Decline as Accidents Increase

Traffic accidents have increased in Kentucky in 2011, even by as much as 27 percent in some counties. Reasons for this increase could include large construction projects or more distracted drivers. Fortunately, the number of people killed in Kentucky car and truck accidents has decreased this year, as it has in the last five years. As of October 10, 2011, 549 people have been killed on the road in Kentucky, about 7.7 percent fewer than last year at this time. Although this is a positive trend, Bill Bell, director for the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety says, "The problem is people still are dying on the highways, and that's unacceptable."

So how is the number of traffic deaths decreasing while the number of accidents increases? Mr. Bell thinks the installation of cable barriers between the roadways is a big factor. These barriers keep cars and trucks from crossing over into oncoming traffic, eliminating deadly head-on crashes. Having more police cruisers parked in construction zones also appears to help by slowing down motorists through these areas that can be more congested and confusing with constantly changing barrels, cones and signs.

Individuals can make changes to their driving habits to help reduce the number of accidents and fatalities on the road. One of the most important aspects of safe driving is being focused on the road and the other drivers rather than being distracted. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says cell-phone users are four times as likely to be involved in an accident. Cell phones should not be used for texting or making phone calls unless the vehicle is pulled over and stopped in a safe location. Do not attend to pets or young children in the back seat until the car is stopped as well. Loud music and rowdy passengers can be distracting, especially for teens. Keep the volume down in the vehicle.

Eating, drinking, shaving, and applying makeup are all driving distractions.
Although this should be common knowledge, it bears repeating. Do not drive any vehicle while sleep-deprived or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These conditions not only hinder the driver's ability to control the car, but they also make the driver less aware of his surroundings and less able to react in a potentially unsafe situation.

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October 6, 2011

Eastern Kentucky Personal Care Home Closed

After years of mismanagement, Golden Years Personal Care Home in Letcher County has been closed by the state of Kentucky. Problems at the home ranged from resident neglect and abuse to theft by the home's administration. By June 2011 the home was under an emergency protection order and Linda Bell was appointed to oversee the facility. Ms. Bell reported that the home was not properly maintained and was running a deficit. The state was not able to find a new owner for the facility, so the current 27 residents are being relocated to other homes.

In 2010, the home's administrator, James Tackett, was indicted in more than 150 counts for allegedly stealing over $500,000 dollars from the home. Most of the funds to pay for personal care homes come from federal disability checks and state funding. The majority of the monthly payments are signed over to the administrator of the home, with less than $100 given to the resident for personal use. Mr. Tackett's grandson, Jonah Tackett, was also an administrator at the home and was indicted on seven counts including theft and bribing and tampering with a witness in July 2011.

The State of Kentucky has been involved with Golden Years Personal Care Home since 2007, when Tackett was accused of injuring a resident by hitting him on the head. He pled guilty and was told to resign and have no contact with the residents of the home. In 2009, the home was cited again because Tackett was still involved with the residents. The home was also put in the negative spotlight in 2007 when a resident wandered off and froze to death. The resident, who suffered from schizophrenia and had a history of leaving the home, was not reported missing by the staff for 17 hours after his disappearance. Other complaints regarding the home included a lack of clean towels and fresh milk for the residents and limited social activities.

While personal care homes, which offer less care than nursing homes, are supposed to be a positive alternative to an institution for individuals with mental disabilities, oftentimes the homes are not much of an improvement. Residents are still shut off from the outside world and homes of this type frequently do not have staff trained to handle patients with multiple or complicated issues.

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