State v. Hawkins – Nursing Home Negligence by Improper Lifting

Falls suffered by nursing home patients are unfortunately all too common. These incidents result in serious injury to the patient, and the vast majority are preventable.
What’s more, a fair number occur when staffers are working to lift or move a patient for one purpose or another. Our Anderson nursing home abuse lawyers know failure of nurses or aides to use proper lifting techniques will inevitably result in problems. In some cases, nursing home facilities fail to properly train or supervise staffers. Other times, it’s a matter of bad policy, insufficient equipment or not enough staff. In a few cases, it’s been found that staffers were simply careless, flouted the rules or, in some cases, deliberately put patients in harms’ way.

This was the allegation in State of Mississippi v. Hattie Hawkins, which was recently appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. According to prosecutors, the reported actions of the nursing assistant in question were not only negligent, they were criminal.

According to court records, an elderly nursing home resident suffered serious injuries while in the care of the nursing assistant. An internal investigation by the facility revealed the worker had lifted the patient by herself, even while knowing that two people were required per policy to lift the patient.

After doing this, she placed the patient in a sling, improperly situated. She then left the patient in the sling, hanging and unattended. The elderly patient fell from the swing and suffered fractures and other injuries. The patient was in severe pain, but, according to authorities, the assistance did not call for help, which meant prompt medical care to this patient was delayed, which may have exacerbated the injuries.

The assistant was later arrested and indicted for simple assault of a vulnerable person. Several days before the criminal trial was to begin, the defense argued the indictment contained an improper statement of law, failing to comport with the state statute on that particular crime. The trial court agreed, and dismissed the charge.

The state appealed, and the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed, noting the language in the indictment was sufficient to explain the nature of the incident and charge. That means the case will move forward to the trial phase.

No mention is made of a civil lawsuit, though those proceedings would occur on a separate track. The outcome of one might not necessarily impact that of the other, though it’s well-established that a criminal conviction can be used as evidence in a subsequent civil case.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, in recognizing the grave consequences of failure to properly lift patients, released a report not long ago, detailing appropriate practices. Patients, the agency noted, benefit by receiving improved safety and comfort and reduced risk of falls, friction burns, dislocated shoulders, skin tears and bruises.

The agency noted in addition to policies that require more than one person to lift, mechanical lifts also help to reduce injuries to both patients and caregivers. A 100-bed facility can expect to spend upward of $30,000 on portable mechanical lifts, with one full-body lift provided for every eight-to-10 patients.

Contact our South Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
State of Mississippi v. Hattie Hawkins, Aug. 14, 2014, Mississippi Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Skilled Nursing Facilities Doing Patients More Harm Than Good? May 19, 2014, Anderson Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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