Nursing home negligence is an all too frequent topic in the news these days. As the population of the United States grows increasingly older, and young adults find themselves trapped between raising children of their own and taking care of their elderly parents, older individuals are more and more likely to spend time in a nursing home or assisted living facility. While many of these service providers have stellar reputations, quality care, and a genuine consideration for their residents, recent stories have highlighted the darker side of nursing homes. In some cases, nursing homes prey on the vulnerable elderly members of society, subjecting them to abuse, neglect, and even death.
A recent case before the West Virginia Supreme Court deals with the tragic death of Robert Thompson, an elderly man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease who resided at Nicholas County Nursing & Rehabilitation, which is owned by CMO Management, LLC (“CMO”). Mr. Thompson died in July 2011 from injuries resulting from prolonged abuse and neglect, including hip fractures, malnutrition, and serious pain. In 2013, Wanda Williams filed suit on behalf of Mr. Thompson for negligence and wrongful death. She sought damages not only for what happened to Mr. Thompson but also for systemic problems with the nursing facility during the course of his time there from 2009 to 2011.
In response, CMO filed a motion for summary judgment in Williams v. CMO Management, LLC, arguing that the lawsuit fell within the requirements of West Virginia’s Medical Professional Liability Act (“MPLA”) and that the MPLA’s two-year statute of limitations barred any claims before 2011. In response, Ms. Williams argued that since Mr. Thompson had Alzheimer’s, he was legally incapacitated and could not have “discovered” his claims against CMO. Accordingly, she took the position that it was not until his death that his claims were discovered, and the two-year statute of limitations should be extended under West Virginia’s savings statute (which allows for the broadening of statutes of limitations). The trial court disagreed and held that the two-year statute of limitations applied.
On appeal, the West Virginia Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision. It noted that while prior West Virginia published opinions had held that the two-year MPLA statute should be applied, they always recognized a special exception for when “discovery was an issue.” Here, Mr. Thompson did not have a legal representative prior to his death. Since he was incapacitated, the court held that it would not have been possible for him to make his claims prior to his death, and accordingly, his injuries and claims were not discovered until he died and a legal representative for his estate was appointed. According to the court, it was only at that time that the statute of limitations began to run, and Mr. Thompson’s injuries and claims from 2009 to 2011 were tolled until that time period. Based on this determination, the court reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded for a new trial on Ms. Williams’ claims.
Nursing home negligence is a very serious concern for anyone considering placing their family member in an assisted living facility. This concern becomes all the more important if your family member is incapacitated or otherwise unable to make decisions for him or herself. If you are concerned that your family member has been subjected to abuse or neglect while in a nursing home, the Wolfe Law Firm can help you evaluate any statute of limitations issues with your claim. Our West Virginia personal injury lawyers have been serving victims of medical malpractice throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury matters and will fight for your right to a fair trial. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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