It’s a fact of life that people tend to have more balance problems as they age. As a result, falling is a real risk that many of our oldest citizens routinely face.
Providing the kind of care that prevents or at least minimizes fall risks can be expensive. But as a furious jury just showed, the cost of an inadequate response to this challenge can be much higher.
In fact, one facility is now staring at a $1 billion verdict because a jury determined that its fall prevention efforts fell short.
After deliberating for barely an hour, a jury recently assessed more than $1 billion in damages against the Florida operator. That’s on top of the $110 million in compensation the same jury approved.
The case was brought by the family of Arlene Townsend, who allegedly died after repeated falls at the Auburndale Oaks Healthcare Center. According to court testimony, she fell at least 17 times during her stay.
Of course, the operator’s checkbook might not be getting opened up any time soon. A different jury awarded a $114 million verdict against Trans Healthcare Inc. and Trans Healthcare Management in 2010. Those damages have not yet been collected.
So we’ll see what happens. But already, I think it’s safe to offer two pieces of advice.
One is that operators who look the other way while others do things that infuriate juries should expect to incur the wrath of outraged juries. As much as I admire and respect many of the people in this field, there is no getting around that fact that some disgraceful practices continue. If the field will not police itself, it had better get used to the court system stepping in. And as we’re seeing, that can mean a 10-figure verdict.
The other is this: If I were running a facility right now, I’d be doing everything humanly possible to prevent resident falls. Yes, the cost of installing or upgrading a program might be high. But as we’re seeing, dealing with the matter in a way that juries find unacceptable can cost quite a bit more.
John O’Connor is the Editorial Director for McKnight’s.