Posted on May 18, 2006
North Idaho jury awards $18 million in nursing home abuse death
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ST. MARIES, Idaho -- A jury has awarded $18 million in punitive damages to relatives of an 86-year-old man who sued the nursing home where he died in 1995, claiming he had been abused and overly medicated.
The Benewah County panel's 11-1 verdict Wednesday followed a three-week trial stemming from the death of Delbert Hayward in February 1995, nearly a year after he was placed at Valley Vista Care Center in St. Maries. The dead man's son, Alfred Hayward, had sought $20 million.
The staff committed more than 700 violations of federal nursing home regulations and eventually caused Hayward's death with repeated dosages of Haldol, a powerful anti-psychotic medication they used to control him after he tried to leave Valley Vista, said Richard C. Eymann, a lawyer for the son.
"This jury verdict sends a message to the entire nation," Eymann said. "Nursing home abuse, including the use of sedating or mind-altering drugs to profit off senior citizens, will not be tolerated. It is our hope that the verdict will help change the culture in nursing home care."
Scott Burpee, chief executive of Valley Vista, asserted that evidence "somehow got twisted around" during jury deliberations and said the verdict would be appealed.
"We still stand behind the care we gave to Mr. Hayward," Burpee said. "We give good care. I don't think there'd be any doubt about that. This kind of thing makes it look like we're not."
After the lawsuit was filed, a judge dismissed the son's claims of wrongful death and breach of contract, but the state Supreme Court reinstated the wrongful death claim in 2001.
While the case has been pending, Burpee expanded Valley Vista operations and said he had earned state awards for excellence.