A South Carolina appellate panel ruled Wednesday that a nursing home cannot send to arbitration a suit accusing it of causing the death of a patient who wandered off and was killed by an alligator, saying claims lodged by the patient’s granddaughter aren’t covered by an arbitration agreement. In a published opinion, a three-judge Court of Appeals panel unanimously affirmed a trial court’s denial of arbitration in a suit accusing Brookdale Senior Living Inc. of causing the 2016 death of 90-year-old patient Bonnie S. Walker, who was a resident of the company’s Brookdale Charleston facility.

The suit filed by the patient’s granddaughter, Stephanie Walker Weaver, alleges that because the home negligently allowed her grandmother to “elope” from the facility and go missing for hours, Weaver herself suffered emotional distress injuries after she participated in a search led by family members and discovered Walker’s maimed and dismembered body in a nearby retention pond known to contain alligators.  Because Weaver only alleged that the home committed ordinary negligence, as opposed to medical malpractice, her claims arose from general duties of care and not from any provision of the residency contract, according to the opinion.

Resident rights.

Residents in nursing homes have rights under The Nursing Home Reform Act under Title IV of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987, and families and loved ones need to make certain those rights are not being violated. A nursing home facility can be held liable for any personal injury, or neglect that causes harm, exacerbates health conditions, or results in an untimely death of a resident. Legal action may be taken against a nursing home based on acts of negligence that cause, or exacerbate existing health conditions, or place residents in danger.  South Carolina Nursing Home Laws (S.C. Code Section 44-7-260), outline standards of care that must be upheld to maintain the well-being of nursing home residents.

Common forms of abuse.

  1.  Verbal abuse – oral, written, or improper gestures that include critical, offensive, and belittling terms.
  2. Sexual abuse – sexual harassment, sexual coercion, or sexual assault.
  3. Physical abuse – control by threat of corporal punishment, or hitting, pushing and painful restraint.
  4. Mental abuse – humiliation, harassment, punishment, or deprivation, and gas lighting.
  5. Involuntary seclusion – Separating a resident from other residents, their personal space, or confinement to their room against the resident’s will.
  6. Unintentional abuse – exacerbation of conditions like diabetes due to changes in medication, diet and exercise, frequent falls, or poor hygiene such as lack of bathing, or brushing teeth.

Standard of care.

Adequate supervision is part of the residents’ bill of rights and when sub-standard care results in harm, or death to a nursing home resident, call an experienced attorney at the McDougall Law Offices, to discuss a potential case for damages.

McDougall Law Firm, LLC

115 Lady’s Island Commons
Beaufort, SC 29907

Phone: 843.379.7000






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