Maree v. Neuwirth – Nursing Home Neglect Lawsuit to Proceed With Additional Defendants

The complex and often non-transparent structure of nursing homes can make it difficult after an incident of abuse or neglect to know which entities to hold responsible. handscompassion2

As The New York Times reported in-depth on the issue in 2007, these facilities have worked to structure ownership in ways that separate real estate and investment from operations, in many cases resulting in several distinct sub-companies having their hand in the pot — but all denying responsibility when a patient suffers illness or injury due to nursing home neglect or abuse. As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services put it, “Knowing the proprietary status of a nursing home provider is insufficient to discern how organizational assets are structured and the operational approach of the company managing the delivery of nursing home services.” DHHS research showed nursing home are increasingly outsourcing management companies to deliver care to residents.

An example of how this can complicate a nursing home neglect lawsuit was seen recently in the Oklahoma Supreme Court case of Maree v. Neuwirth. According to court records, decedent was a resident of defendant nursing home facility when in January 2011, she suffered a fall. Plaintiff, decedent’s daughter, alleges her mother fell because defendant nursing home failed to respond to a “call light” in a timely manner in order to provide the elderly woman with appropriate toileting help. On top of that, the nursing home reportedly failed to contact a doctor or other appropriate medical assistance in a timely manner. Seven hours passed before a physician was called. Two days after the fall, patient died. 

Two years after decedent’s death, plaintiff filed a lawsuit, asserting her mother’s injury and death were the result of nursing home negligence. Plaintiff cited as defendant the nursing home, corporately and/ or by and through its servants, agents and employees, as well as the owner/operator. She alleged the nursing home breached its contract with the state by failing to comply with federal and state laws regarding long-term care, with decedent being the intended third-party beneficiary of those regulations.

Then in November 2015, almost five years after decedent’s death, plaintiff filed a motion to amend her petition to include “certain individuals and entities intertwined amongst and actually part of the named defendant.” She alleged these individuals made important decisions concerning staffing, hiring, budgeting, personnel issues, procedures and policies — including safety measures and directives regarding patient care and supervision.

Nursing home objected to motion to amend, arguing the the statute of limitations precluded claims against other entities and individuals, petitioner caused undue delay that was prejudicial to nursing home and the amendment doesn’t relate back to the original petition. Trial court denied the motion to amend based on the statute of limitations, and the fact that the conduct alleged by plaintiffs was not in connection with or directly involved with the occurrence of the action as originally filed.

Plaintiff appealed to the state supreme court.

The court ruled the trial court failed to afford petitioner the opportunity for discovery of her claims before deciding the issue on its merit. Thus, the court determined the trial court reached that conclusion in error and granted a writ of prohibition blocking the trial court from preventing that order. With regard to the writ of mandamus to allow plaintiff to amend the complaint, the trial court remanded for further consideration in light of the opinion.

If you have been a victim of nursing home negligence, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Maree v. Neuwirth, June 7, 2016, Oklahoma Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Florida Day Care Injuries Give Rise to Lawsuit, May 25, 2016, Miami Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog