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Nursing Home Assessed Damages for Failing to Honor Patient's Living Will
A Florida jury has found that in trying to keep a 92-year-old Alzheimer's patient alive, a nursing home failed to honor the patient's living will and advance directive and must pay damages.
The jury found that the nursing home, the Joseph L. Morse Geriatric Center in West Palm Beach, had breached its contract with the patient, Madeline Neumann, by not honoring her wish that she not be sustained by artificial means. The jury awarded $150,000 in damages.
"This is a big deal," said Dr. Kenneth Goodman, director of the University of Miami's bioethics program and the Florida Bioethics Network. "It's a reaffirmation that no means no. There are a lot of institutions and a lot of health-care professionals who have acquired the belief that you reduce liability overtreating patients. This case shows that's a bad strategy. The whole point is that advance directives survive your inability to utter them."
When Ms. Neumann suffered a seizure in 1995, the nursing home called rescue workers. She was rushed to a hospital, where she died six days later, but not before a number of lifesaving measures were tried, including the insertion of a breathing tube in her throat.
Linda Scheible, Ms. Neumann's granddaughter and health-care surrogate, sued the nursing home for prolonging her grandmother's life unnecessarily. After the verdict, she said that she wanted to let those caring for the elderly know that "they need to pay attention to patients' end-of-life directives and wishes."
The jury cleared the nursing home's medical director at the time, finding that he did nothing wrong when he ordered that Ms. Neumann be taken to the hospital.
"Madeline Neumann is everybody's grandparent, everybody's parent," said Jack Scarola, one of Ms. Scheible's attorneys. "This is what we can expect to happen to every single one of us. Nursing homes are now on notice that there are economic consequences to their neglect of these responsibilities."
Testimony in the trial, which involved Florida's first prolongation-of-life case, lasted three weeks and was taped by Court TV.
For a Florida Sun-Sentinel article on the case, click here.