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Cavalier v. Memorial Hospital at Gulfport

Supreme Court of Mississippi

September 13, 2018

JULIA CAVALIER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A HEIR AT LAW OF LAUTAIN M. SCRUGGS, DECEASED, JANNETTE SCRUGGS McDONALD, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A HEIR AT LAW OF LAUTAIN M. SCRUGGS, DECEASED, AND THE ESTATE OF WILMA LAUTAIN SCRUGGS, DECEASED
v.
MEMORIAL HOSPITAL AT GULFPORT

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/03/2017

          HARRISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. CHRISTOPHER LOUIS SCHMIDT TRIAL JUDGE.

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: DAVID N. HARRIS, JR. KAARA L. LIND

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: DAVID N. HARRIS, JR. CHRISTOPHER C. VAN CLEAVE CLYDE H. GUNN, III

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: WILLIAM E. WHITFIELD, III KAARA L. LIND

          BEFORE WALLER, C.J., COLEMAN AND MAXWELL, JJ.

          COLEMAN, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. While recovering from surgery at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport, eighty-nine-year-old Lautain Scruggs fell after getting out of her hospital bed. Scruggs suffered a head injury (subdural hematoma) that required almost immediate surgery. Testimony at trial established that the previously independent Scruggs never recovered fully from the head injury sustained when she fell. Several years later, Scruggs died; her death was unrelated to the head injury.

         ¶2. Scruggs's daughters Julia Cavalier and Jannette Scruggs McDonald and her estate (collectively Cavalier) filed a complaint against Memorial Hospital for medical negligence.[1]Pursuant to the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, the trial court conducted a multiday bench trial, with the evidence essentially being a battle of the experts on the appropriate standard of care as it related to Memorial Hospital's fall-risk assessment tool. Ultimately, the trial court found in favor of Memorial Hospital, and Cavalier filed a motion for a new trial. The trial court denied Cavalier's motion for a new trial, so Cavalier filed the present appeal. We affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. On July 8, 2013, surgeons at Memorial Hospital performed a hemicolectomy on eighty-nine-year-old Scruggs. Following her surgery and a short time in recovery, Scruggs arrived on Floor 5A of the hospital, where Nurse Cammie Cothern initially assessed Scruggs. Nurse Cothern did not indicate Scruggs was a fall risk or initiate Memorial Hospital's "Spot the Dot" program; however, she did employ several measures used to reduce or prevent falls. Nurse Cothern charted that Scruggs was awake, alert, aware, cooperative, and oriented, with clear speech. Later in the day, Nurse Cothern provided Scruggs with an educational sheet regarding how to prevent falls, and Scruggs indicated that she read and understood the information. Scruggs's family was present when Nurse Cothern provided and explained the educational sheet. Nurse Cothern charted that Scruggs's bed was in a low position with the upper side rails raised, that her items were within her reach, and that Scruggs had been instructed to use her call button for assistance.[2] Scruggs received pain medication (Toradol and Demerol) at 5:15 p.m. on the same day, which was the last dose of pain medication before she fell the following night.

         ¶4. At 7:20 a.m. on July 9, 2013, Nurse Amy Wade attended to Scruggs. Nurse Wade charted Scruggs as a fall risk, so she initiated the "Spot the Dot" program. The program is a fall-prevention measure used to communicate risks, usually in the form of a yellow arm band for the patient and a yellow dot on the patient's door and in her chart. Nurse Wade continued the safety measures implemented by Nurse Cothern as noted above. Similarly, Nurse Wade charted that Scruggs was awake, alert, aware, and suffering from no apparent cognitive difficulties. Scruggs's friend Betty Ladner, who visited Scruggs on the morning of July 9, 2013, testified that Scruggs was sitting in a chair, applying make up, and that she was fully alert and conversing as usual.

         ¶5. By mid-morning on July 9, 2013, Scruggs's catheter had been removed and she was encouraged to walk with assistance of a walker. Scruggs also saw an occupational therapist, who charted that her ability to walk was similar to her pre-operative abilities and that she was almost baseline with her functional status. The occupational therapist did not note any cognitive issues but did note that Scruggs understood complex commands.

         ¶6. Amanda Clark, Scruggs's nurse for the night of July 9, 2013, assessed Scruggs and determined that Scruggs was a fall risk. She implemented the "Spot the Dot" program and employed the same safety and fall-prevention measures that had been implemented by Nurse Wade. Nurse Clark charted that Scruggs was awake, alert, and aware. Additionally, Scruggs had clear speech, was oriented, was calm, and obeyed commands. Nurse Clark testified that, "if [Scruggs] had been confused or shown [] any signs of noncompliance . . . I would have put a bed alarm on her." Scruggs's chart indicates that, at 8:20 p.m., she was resting comfortably in a chair, and that at 9:33 p.m., she was back in her hospital bed visiting with her daughters. Twenty minutes later, she was back in her chair. Scruggs was back in her bed and sleeping at 10:15 p.m.; however, at approximately 10:50 p.m., a nursing assistant entered Scruggs's room and found her on the floor propped up on a trash can. There was blood on the floor, on Scruggs's cheek, and in her hair. Scruggs informed the nursing ...


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