Judge: Expert testimony not needed in spa tub death suit

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Judge Dan Aaron Polster
Judge Dan Aaron Polster

The estate of a woman who died in an Emeritus Corp. senior living community may pursue wrongful death and medical malpractice claims without providing expert testimony, U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster has ruled.

The case involves Vincenzina Pontoni, who died in 2010 while residing at the Emeritus-owned Brookside Estates in Middleburg Heights, OH. Her estate alleges that Pontoni, who required bathing assistance, was left unattended in a spa tub for over an hour, during which time she drowned.

Emeritus filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the estate failed to provide “proper expert testimony” in support of medical malpractice and wrongful death claims. In denying this motion, the judge wrote that the plaintiff provided testimony from a registered nurse with assisted living experience, which is sufficient. Furthermore, the nurse's testimony is not even needed in this case, because a jury can understand the charges without elucidation from an expert.

“Plaintiff's theory is that Defendant breached its duty of care by leaving an infirm resident alone in a spa tub in a locked room for well over an hour late at night, provided its staff deficient training — one day of ‘orientation' followed by three days of shadowing and no training on how to give or supervise resident baths, and had an inadequate number of staff members on duty the night in question — two for 20 residents,” Polster wrote. “A jury does not have to accept Plaintiff's theory of negligence, but it can certainly comprehend the theory without help from an expert.”

Polster also determined that Pontoni's estate can seek punitive damages because “malice can be inferred” from evidence that was presented.