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Long-term care facility hit with $1M verdict

A Harford County jury has awarded damages of $1 million after the death of an 86-year-old woman at a long-term care facility in Forest Hill.

Marie A. Brockmeyer’s children alleged the staff at Hart Heritage of Forest Hill failed to obtain emergency care for her until it was too late. Brockmeyer, 86, spent the last night of her life in distress in a common-area reclining chair and died the morning of March 26, 2012, before paramedics could arrive, according to the family’s lawsuit.

The jury deliberated for six hours Wednesday before finding Hart Heritage’s breach of the standard of care caused Brockmeyer’s pain and suffering, but not her death. As a result, the damages were awarded to her estate but not directly to her five children, according to Roger S. Weinberg, the family’s lawyer.

The award will be trimmed to $710,000 under Maryland’s cap on medical malpractice damages. Weinberg, a Towson solo practitioner who specializes in representing families and individuals injured in nursing home and assisted living facilities, said he believes the verdict is the first in Harford County addressing negligence of a long-term care facility.

Gerard J. Emig of Gleason, Flynn, Emig & Fogleman Chtd. in Rockville, a lawyer for Hart Heritage, did not respond to a request for comment.

Brockmeyer moved into a second-floor room at Hart Heritage in July 2011 with dementia and other health problems, according to the complaint filed in January 2013.

On the morning of March 25, 2012, an aide noticed Brockmeyer was “cold, clammy, sweaty and felt like she had a fever,” the complaint said.

A certified medicine aide said she would examine Brockmeyer but did not, the children alleged. No mention of Brockmeyer’s condition was made during the staff-changeover briefing for the evening shift, and no nurse was on the overnight shift, according to the complaint.

Later that night, aides found Brockmeyer had experienced multiple bouts of diarrhea, was vomiting and had rectal bleeding, the complaint states. Brockmeyer was taken out of her room and to the first floor, where several aides said she needed to go the hospital.

They said their boss told them Brockmeyer’s son, Phillip, who was her emergency contact, said he did not want to be called after 9 p.m. Phillip Brockmeyer denied making such a statement, according to the complaint.

He was called at 12:30 a.m. on March 26, but the severity of his mother’s health problems was “downplayed” and the rectal bleeding was not mentioned, the complaint said.

The suit alleged that Marie Brockmeyer continued to suffer from rectal bleeding throughout the night. Early on the morning of March 26, aides took Brockmeyer to the shower and noticed she was “cold, very pale and not very responsive” and she stopped breathing for 30 seconds, the complaint states.

A Hart Heritage supervisor called Phillip Brockmeyer again at 5 a.m. and said she would check on his mother in a few hours. When Phillip Brockmeyer called back two hours later, he was told his mother had low blood pressure. He requested the staff call the facility’s doctor, according to the complaint.

Brockmeyer arrived at Hart Heritage at 8 a.m. and discovered the doctor had not been called, the lawsuit states. The doctor was then contacted and said to send Marie Brockmeyer to the hospital, but she died before the paramedics came, the lawsuit states.

The jury of two men and four women found Phillip Brockmeyer was not contributorily negligent in his mother’s death, as the defense had alleged, according to Weinberg.

Phillip Brockmeyer had built an addition on his house that his mother lived in for two years until he and his wife could no longer care for her by themselves, Weinberg said.

“He was deeply involved with her care and loved her very much,” he said. “The family was upset that the facility tried to blame Phillip for their failure to get Marie Brockmeyer to the hospital.”

The family felt vindicated at the end of the six-day trial before Judge Yolanda L. Curtin, according to Weinberg. The family is Catholic and was upset Marie Brockmeyer did not receive last rites.

“They’ve had to live with this,” Weinberg said. “The manner of her death of being left in a recliner to die still haunts them.”

KATHLEEN WOODCOCK, ET AL. V. HART HERTIAGE OF FOREST HILL INC., ET AL.

Court:

Harford County Circuit Court

Case No.:

12C13000309

Judge:

Yolanda L. Curtin

Outcome:

Verdict for plaintiffs for $1 million, capped at $710,000

Dates:

Incident: March 25-26, 2012

Suit filed: January 30, 2013

Verdict: March 12, 2013

Plaintiffs’ Attorney:

Roger S. Weinberg, Towson solo practitioner

Defendant’s Attorney:

Gerard J. Emig and Karen M. Cooke of Gleason, Flynn, Emig & Fogleman, Chtd. in Rockville

Counts:

Negligence, breach of contract, wrongful death