An Iowa nursing home won its appeal of a $6 million verdict — the state’s largest ever for a long-term care facility — in a case accusing staff of negligence and abuse, prevailing on an issue of improperly admitted evidence.

An attorney for Timely Mission Nursing Home in Buffalo, IA, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Friday that the facility was “pleased with the decision and believes the Court correctly decided the case.”

Meanwhile, there are indications the plaintiff will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled on June 21 that the lower court erred in allowing the prosecutor to include testimony and evidence about abuse, writing in the opinion that the estate of the resident that sued “must show more than rumors.”

Darlene Weaver, who had been diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson’s disease moved into Timely Mission in July 2015. She had a history of falls and the initial care assessment by the facility indicated that she required assistance from at least one person to help her walk and get to the bathroom. By January 2016, though, the assessment was revised to show that she was “not a high fall risk.” Court documents indicate that Weaver suffered a fall in April 2017 without serious injury and again in June 2017, which left her with a fractured left hip and shoulder. She died a week later due to complications from the June fall. 

During the trial, witnesses testified that Melanie Blakesley, a certified nursing assistant, was seen and heard being abusive toward Weaver, telling her to “help herself because she couldn’t be [there] all of the time,” according to the appeals court’s decision. Witnesses, including other CNAs who worked at the facility and nursing home sector experts, were also called to detail other claims of abuse and the effects that would have on residents. 

“The Estate planned to elicit testimony that fear of staff at a nursing home can prevent residents from asking for help,” the opinion said. 

Court documents state that Timely Mission eventually fired the CNA. 

But Timely Mission’s attorneys argued that the testimony and reports from the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals detailing allegations of abuse involving Weaver and other residents should not have been allowed. 

“To satisfy the failure-to-investigate theory, (Weaver’s estate) must show more than rumors,” wrote Appeals Court Judge Sharon Greer. “The estate argues the evidence was offered to prove the ‘pattern of reports’ that Timely Mission received but failed to investigate. But, based on this record we cannot say if the rumors all relate back to one incident or many incidents.”

While the court remanded the case for a new trial, local news reports said that Weaver’s family plans to ask the state Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court’s decision.