Robert O’Connor, then 77 years old, was admitted to Kingston Hospital on December 26, 2008 from the office of his physician when he was noted to be dehydrated and hypotensive subsequent to a several week history of loss of appetite and generalized weakness with nausea and vomiting. Within two days, he was diagnosed with multiple cancerous liver and bone metastases. During his two weeks at the hospital, Mr. O’Connor developed significant bed sores from which he suffered until he succumbed from cancer and died at another hospital on February 27, 2009.
In his estate’s ensuing medical malpractice lawsuit, an Ulster County jury determined that Kingston Hospital committed malpractice by departing from accepted standards of nursing practice in its treatment of Mr. O’Connor between 12/26/08 and 1/9/09 and, after he was discharged to his home for nine days, between 1/18/09 and 1/23/09. Plaintiff’s expert identified three specific deviations that caused the pressure ulcers to develop and worsen: (1) failing to turn the patient every two hours, (2) failing to supply an air mattress, and, (3) failing to to recognize the high risk for pressure ulcers and have a plan in place designed to minimize pressure on the skin.
The jury awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $500,000 (past – two months), an amount that was affirmed in O’Connor v. Kingston Hospital (3d Dept. 2019).
Here are the injury details:
- development of Stage II pressure ulcer by 1/1/09 (and two more by 1/3/09) which grew to 10 centimeters and was designated unstageable by 1/19/09 and which by 1/23/09 was diagnosed as a Stage IV sacral decubitis pressure ulcer which had the appearance of rotting flesh and had purulent serosanguineous discharge and odor
- constant pain, as is typical with pressure ulcers, in and about his buttocks and legs, leaving him unable to walk
- two surgical irrigation and debridement procedures to remove the eschar (dead tissue) and drain inside the ulcer
Plaintiff argued that defendant’s negligence caused a large grotesque foul-smelling wound in which flesh literally rotted as the decedent, a stoic Korean War veteran, died an ignominious and painful death. Defendant argued that it was far from clear that the decedent developed any pressure ulcers while under its care and that its records indicated he was discharged “without skin breakdown.”
As to damages, the defense contended that the pain and suffering award was excessive and that:
- whatever pain the decedent had it was well controlled while under the defendant’s care,
- whatever pain he had related almost solely to his abdominal region likely due to his metastatic cancer, and ,
- the jury speculated impermissibly with regard to which, if any, pain and suffering was the result of any alleged departures or was “simply an unfortunate result of his suffering from terminal metastatic cancer with associated treatments.”
- Joycie O’Connor, the decedent’s wife who was with him every day in the hospital, died while this case was on appeal.
- Between the two admissions to Kingston Hospital, the decedent was cared for at home by his wife and Willcare, Inc., a home health agency. It was sued along with the hospital. After its motion for summary judgment was denied, plaintiff settled with Willcare for $200,000.