Fayette jury awards more than $1 million in nursing home injury case

Jury says injured elderly woman was not supervised properly at nursing facility

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comOctober 25, 2011 

Irene Hendrix was injured on Jan. 21, 2009, while a resident of Cambridge Place Nursing Home in Lexington.

A Fayette Circuit Court jury ruled Monday that Lexington's Cambridge Place Nursing Home should pay more than $1 million in damages to a resident who fell and was found severely injured in an equipment storage room.

Irene Hendrix was found in January 2009 after she went missing while moving up and down the hall in a Merry Walker, a type of walker that includes a seat. She had broken bones in her face, there was bleeding in her brain, and she had a 4-centimeter cut on her forehead, a cut on her lip and a swollen eye, according to state documents.

Hendrix, who was in her late 80s at the time and who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, had to be hospitalized. She has since moved to another nursing home.

In 2009, Hendrix's daughter and guardian Mary Gullette filed a lawsuit against N&R of Cambridge Place LLC, identified in state records as the owner of the nursing home, and Health Systems of Kentucky LLC, identified in state records as the management company for the nursing home. The lawsuit alleged negligence, which nursing home officials denied.

The jury deliberated about two hours Monday before awarding $1 million for Hendrix's physical pain, suffering and mental anguish and $27,473.48 for her medical costs.

"A jury spoke today regarding the level of care they expect for their loved ones in nursing homes in Fayette County," one of Gullette's attorneys, Scott Owens, said after the verdict was returned.

Paul Dzenitis, the attorney who represented Health Systems of Kentucky, told the jury that the nursing staff followed the care plan created for Hendrix and checked on her as they were supposed to do.

Dzenitis told the jury that the nurses and aides at Cambridge Place "deserve our admiration and they deserve our respect."

Dzenitis could not be reached Monday night. In closing arguments Monday, another of Gullette's attorneys, Vanessa Cantley, told the jury that Hendrix did not get the supervision she should have received at the nursing home.

But Cantley told the jury she was not finding fault with the nursing staff: "I know how hard they have it. They are only able to work with what they are given."

Cantley said it was "the people above them," the nursing home corporation they worked for, that bore the responsibility. In an interview after the trial, Owens said the nursing home management also made decisions affecting resident care.

Hendrix's case was the subject of an investigation by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the attorney general's office.

A state adult-protection worker determined that Hendrix was a victim of caretaker neglect and had been exposed to an extreme safety risk. The protection worker told the attorney general's office that she thought Hendrix's injuries were the result of an accident.

A description of the room where Hendrix was found and descriptions of how Hendrix might have fallen differed in the investigative reports of various agencies.

The attorney general's office closed the case in March 2009, determining that the injuries were caused by an accidental fall.

Owens asked Attorney General Jack Conway's office in 2010 to reopen the investigation of Hendrix's unexplained injuries. But the office declined after a medical expert found there was no evidence in the medical record that the injuries were caused by any mechanism other than a fall.

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3409.

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