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Butler v. Chadwick Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

July 25, 2017

EVELYN D. BUTLER, INDIVIDUALLY, AS ADMINISTRATRIX FOR THE ESTATE OF ALICE JEAN BUTLER, AND ON BEHALF OF THE WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF ALICE JEAN BUTLER APPELLANT
v.
CHADWICK NURSING & REHABILITATION CENTER, CHADWICK NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER, LLC, JOHN C. FARMER, M.D., AND FARMER AND ASSOCIATES INTERNAL MEDICINE, INC. APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/18/2015

         HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. WILLIAM A. GOWAN JR., Judge

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: WILLIAM W. FULGHAM

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: W. DAVIS FRYE MILDRED M. MORRIS TIMOTHY LEE SENSING ANDREA LA'VERNE FORD EDNEY JEAN COOPER BERTAS JOHN BURLEY HOWELL III

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., BARNES AND WILSON, JJ.

          WILSON, J.

         ¶1. Alice Butler was admitted to Central Mississippi Medical Center (CMMC) on October 28, 2009, with severe hip pain. Alice's doctor at CMMC believed that she needed a hip replacement, but he recommended that she undergo a course of rehabilitation to improve her strength prior to surgery. On November 5, 2009, Alice was transferred to Chadwick Nursing and Rehabilitation Center LLC (Chadwick) for rehabilitation. At the time of her admission, Chadwick's staff documented multiple areas of skin breakdown on Alice's body, including two bed sores (pressure ulcers) on her buttock. While Alice was at Chadwick, these sores deteriorated and became infected. On November 27, 2009, Alice was transferred to the emergency room at CMMC, where she was diagnosed with sepsis and other illnesses. On December 27, 2009, Alice died of acute respiratory failure caused by sepsis.

         ¶2. Alice's daughter, Evelyn, subsequently filed a medical malpractice complaint against Chadwick and Alice's primary physician at Chadwick, Dr. John Farmer. Evelyn alleges that Chadwick failed to notify Alice's doctors of changes in her condition in a timely fashion. She also alleges that Dr. Farmer's treatment of Alice did not meet the standard of care. She further alleges that these failures by Chadwick and Dr. Farmer more likely than not caused Alice's death. The case eventually proceeded to a jury trial. However, at the conclusion of Evelyn's case-in-chief, the circuit judge granted the defendants' motions for directed verdicts because the judge concluded (1) that there was insufficient evidence that any alleged breach of care by Chadwick caused Alice's death and (2) that as a matter of law Evelyn failed to establish any breach of care by Dr. Farmer. We agree with the circuit court that both defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Therefore, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. In October 2009, Alice Butler was sixty-eight years of age. She had been diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and gout. She was morbidly obese, and her medical history also included a diabetic coma, a stroke, and heart bypass surgery. However, Alice lived in her own home and was able to care for herself.

         ¶4. Alice also suffered from degenerative joint disease. On October 28, 2009, she went to see her doctor, Dr. Hursie Davis Sullivan, because she had been unable to walk for three days due to severe pain in her left hip. At Dr. Sullivan's recommendation, Alice was admitted to CMMC the same day for her hip pain.

         ¶5. One of the doctors at CMMC, Dr. Temple, felt that Alice needed a hip replacement, but he recommended Alice should go somewhere for a period of rehabilitation prior to surgery. Alice's family placed her at Chadwick for rehabilitation.

         ¶6. Alice was transferred from CMMC to Chadwick on November 5, 2009. Alice's family testified that for about the first week she was at Chadwick, she seemed to be normal and in good spirits.

         ¶7. Dr. Farmer was Alice's admitting physician at Chadwick. Upon her admission on November 5, Chadwick's staff evaluated Alice and noted two bed sores (i.e., pressure ulcers) on her buttock that were described as "open" and "red in color" but without any "drainage or odor." One sore measured three and a half centimeters by one centimeter, and the other measured two centimeters by one centimeter. On November 10, Chadwick's staff noted that one of Alice's sores was eight centimeters long and four centimeters wide. Records indicate that there was no odor from the sores, but there was some drainage.

         ¶8. On November 13, Chadwick's staff noted in Alice's records that she had not walked in the previous seven days and needed "extensive assistance" to bathe or use the restroom. Alice got around Chadwick primarily by using a wheelchair. Alice's records also reflect that she experienced hip and joint pain daily that at times was "horrible or excruciating."

         ¶9. Alice's family testified that they noticed a change in her condition during her second week at Chadwick. They testified that Alice was almost always asleep when they went to visit her, but Chadwick's staff told them that Alice was just tired from her rehabilitation.

         ¶10. On November 17, Alice's sores developed slough. Chadwick's staff notified Dr. Farmer of this change in Alice's condition, and he ordered that the wound be treated with Santyl, a chemical debriding agent, to remove the slough. Alice's records reflect that on November 18 the wound was still eight centimeters long by eight centimeters without odor or drainage; however, the wound had turned yellow in color and slough was present.

         ¶11. Alice's family testified that Alice continued to sleep a lot during her third week at Chadwick, and Evelyn testified that she stopped receiving daily phone calls from Alice. Alice's family testified that they were concerned about Alice and continued to question staff about her condition.

         ¶12. At some point during Alice's third week at Chadwick, Evelyn learned about Alice's wound for the first time. Evelyn testified that she asked to see the wound on more than one occasion, but Chadwick's staff told her that she could not because the wound had just been treated with ointment or bandaged or because Alice was asleep. Evelyn ...


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