Attorneys at Our Firm
Automobile Accident$4,200,000
Nursing Home Malpractice$2,200,000
River Street, Savannah
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River Street, Savannah
Premises Liability$2,000,000
Talmadge Memorial Bridge
Medical Malpractice$1,600,000
Forsyth Park

The Beaufort County South Carolina Sheriff’s Office has reported that a resident of a nursing home on Hilton Head Island was sexually assaulted by an employee of the nursing facility.  The assault took place at Life Care Center of Hilton Head, located at 120 Lamotte Drive.

Beaufort County Investigators were called to Life Care Center of Hilton Head on the afternoon of Wednesday May 2, 2018, in reference to an assault that had taken place the previous night.  According to the Sheriff’s report, a nurse said she went to a patient’s room around 1:15 p.m. Wednesday and found her “upset and crying.”  When she asked what was wrong, the patient told the nurse that she had been sexually assaulted.

Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Capt. Bob Bromage said a suspect in the assault had been identified as a nursing home employee, and that person is now on suspension from his position at Life Care Center of Hilton Head.  Because the investigation is ongoing, very few details have been released to the public about the assault that took place inside Life Care Center of Hilton Head.

A recently filed lawsuit claims breast implants manufactured by Mentor Worldwide, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, caused an Ohio woman to develop a rare form of cancer known as anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or ALCL.  Johnson and Johnson purchased Mentor in 2009 for more than $1.1 billion.

According to the complaint, Renee Cashen, 45, of Ashville, Ohio, had breast implant surgery in February 2008. About eight years later, she noticed a lump under her right armpit and a biopsy determined she had anaplastic large cell lymphoma.  She had surgery to remove the MemoryGel® SILTEX® implants, made by Mentor, as well as infected lymph nodes. She subsequently underwent chemotherapy for a condition that has become known as Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL.

Ms. Cashen is one of many women across the country who has experienced health problems related to implants. In March of 2018, the FDA issued a warning to individuals with breast implants alerting them to the potential link to BIA-ALCL. As of September 30, 2017, the FDA had received a total of 414 medical device reports (MDRs) of BIA-ALCL, including the death of nine patients.

Today, a growing number of Americans live in assisted living facilities.  These facilities are intended to be a bridge between living at home and residing in a nursing home.  In an assisted living setting, a resident can still live with a high degree of independence, but can receive help managing their medications and performing activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing and eating.

In a shocking report released earlier his month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) detailed their study that found the federal government lacks even basic information about the quality of assisted living services provided to low-income people on Medicaid.  The report titled “Improved Federal Oversight of Beneficiary Health and Welfare is Needed,” was done at the request of a bipartisan group of senators including Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Susan M. Collins (R-Maine), Claire C. McCaskill (D-Missouri), and Elizabeth Warren, (D-Massachusetts).  The senators ordered the study in July 2015 to better understand federal and state oversight of these facilities, which increasingly receive federal Medicaid dollars but are not subject to the same federal rules as nursing homes.  According to the study, states reported spending more than $10 billion a year in federal and state funds for assisted living services for more than 330,000 Medicaid beneficiaries, an average of more than $30,000 a person.  Despite the tremendous amount of federal funds flowing to companies operating assisted living facilities, there is very little government oversight of the industry.

“The GAO report found that 26 states could not report to GAO the number of ‘critical incidents’—serious health and safety problems that could include physical assaults, sexual abuse, unexplained death, unauthorized use of restraints, medication errors and inappropriate discharges or evictions—occurring in assisted living facilities in their state,” a statement from Sen. Warren’s office said. “But the 22 states that did track this information used different definitions of critical incidents, further complicating effective oversight of such facilities.”  While all states consider physical, emotional or sexual abuse as a critical incident, some states did not identify other problems. For instance, seven states didn’t indicate potential harm or neglect, such as medication errors, as a critical incident. Three states didn’t consider unexplained death as a critical incident.  Of the 22 states that did track critical incidents, the study found that there were more than 22,900 incidents in one year, including the physical, emotional or sexual abuse of residents.  In many cases, the report found that when states did identify a significant problem at a facility, that information was not made available to the public.

The United States Government will pay $42 million to the parents of a young child who suffered a permanent brain injury, resulting from improper use of forceps during his delivery.  After a six day trial in Federal Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the verdict for $42 million was rendered by U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo.  The parents sued the Federal Government in a malpractice claim involving an Ob/Gyn physician, who was employed at a federal facility.  The lawsuit claimed that the doctor improperly used forceps on the baby’s head during the delivery, which caused skull fractures and bleeding on the brain that resulted in permanent brain damage.  Evidence presented during trial showed that the now five year old boy cannot speak, read or write and eventually will require a motorized wheelchair to get around.

This was what is known as a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) case.  The FTCA is a federal statute that allows private parties to sue the United States in Federal Court for torts committed by persons acting on behalf of the Government.  For example, if a doctor or nurse employed by a Veterans Administration hospital or a hospital on a military base commits malpractice, the patient would need to bring a medical malpractice claim under the FTCA.  Other examples of potential negligence claims against the Government include someone injured in an auto accident involving a Government owned vehicle, and someone injured due to a fall caused by negligent maintenance in a post office or other Government-owned facility.

Suing the Government under the FTCA is different than suing a private company or individual.  There are a number of hoops that you have to jump through before you can even file the lawsuit. There are also certain limitations in lawsuits against the Government that you don’t have in lawsuits against private parties.  While you are entitled to a trial under the FTCA, it is a “bench trial,” meaning the judge renders the decision and not a jury.  Fortunately for the victims in the above-referenced malpractice case, the judge recognized the serious and permanent nature of the child’s injuries and the extraordinary expenses that would be required to provide for the child’s future medical and life care needs.

Dr. Paul Harnetty, an Ob/Gyn who practiced in Georgia from 2003 until 2012, was convicted last month by a Wyoming jury of sexually assaulting two of his female patients.  Harnetty began practicing medicine in Wyoming in 2012.  It did not take long before a number of his Wyoming patients accused him of sexual assault and abuse.  In February of 2016, a disciplinary complaint was filed against Dr. Harnetty by the governing medical board in Wyoming.  In January of 2017, Dr. Harnetty was arrested and charged with twelve counts of sexual assault, resulting in the recent conviction on two of those charges.  Dr. Harnetty awaits sentencing.

Sadly, there was a long trail of allegations against Harnetty while he was practicing Ob/Gyn medicine in Georgia.  Harnetty was investigated by the Georgia Composite Medical Board.  Nurses who had worked with the doctor reported to the Board that the doctor had committed highly unusual acts on patients while they were delivering babies.  The Medical Board never disciplined Harnetty publically and the Board’s investigation was kept confidential.  Dr. Harnetty gave up his hospital privileges at a Georgia hospital in 2010, but the hospital refused to say why.  As a result, Harnetty was able to leave the State of Georgia with a clear record and obtain a license to practice medicine in Wyoming.  The District Attorney in Wyoming who prosecuted Dr. Harnetty stated, “There had been red flags on this guy forever.”

Regrettably, the system in place that shields and protects doctors who are charged with sexual abuse of patients is broken.  The Georgia Board responsible for licensing and disciplining doctors refuses to comment on what it knew about Dr. Harnetty or whether he was ever disciplined by the Board.  Georgia law allows the Board to discipline doctors in private.  This is the so-called “code of silence.”  For example, the Georgia Board’s investigator had interviewed a labor and delivery nurse, who reported that she had filed a complaint of sexual harassment by Dr. Harnetty with the hospital in 2007.  The nurse reported that while in a patient’s room, Dr. Harnetty walked up beside her and grabbed the nurse’s bottom.  Other nurses also told the Board’s investigator about Harnetty touching them inappropriately, making lewd comments, and sexually harassing them.  If the Georgia Board did anything about these allegations, it was never made public.  Had the Georgia Board decided to discipline Dr. Harnetty publicly, the alleged sexual abuse that occurred in Wyoming may have been prevented.

Nursing-Home-Evacuation-300x169As anyone who lives in the coastal area of the southern United States knows, we have dealt with several major hurricane evacuations over the last couple of years that have forced residents out of their homes.  While these evacuations can be an ordeal for anyone, it is especially challenging to evacuate those vulnerable citizens who are residents of nursing homes and other assisted living facilities.  Though with proper planning, nursing homes can and should have a plan that protects their residents in the event of a mandatory hurricane evacuation.

Sadly, we saw a lack of preparation by nursing homes time and time again during the coverage of the major hurricanes of 2017.  For instance, ten elderly nursing home residents in Hollywood, Florida died after being kept inside a facility that essentially turned into an oven when Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s air conditioning for three days.  These residents were left inside the building, despite the fact there was a hospital with working electricity just across the street.

There were also horrifying images out of Texas during Hurricane Harvey that showed nursing home residents sitting in several feet of unsanitary flood water.  Luckily in the Texas case, the residents ultimately had a (somewhat) happy ending, as all 18 of those affected by the flood water were airlifted from the flooded La Vita Bella assisted living facility in Dickinson, Texas, and subsequently relocated to other facilities across the state.  However, these residents should have never had to go through such a traumatic experience.

Physiomesh-300x223
Suthers Law Firm continues to investigate claims of those seriously injured by Ethicon Physiomesh, a device used in hernia repair procedures. A hernia is a bulge of body tissue that occurs through an opening within the abdominal wall muscles. A hernia, which can occur in any location on the abdominal wall, is caused by weakness or thinness of the abdominal wall, and is often repaired using surgical mesh, such as Ethicon Physiomesh.  Unfortunately, there have been numerous serious complications reported across the country associated with Ethicon’s Physiomesh product.

In May of 2016, Ethicon announced a global market withdrawal of the Physiomesh Flexible Composite Mesh product.  The removal of the mesh product from the market came after two European databases that showed Physiomesh was associated with higher rates of hernia recurrence and revisions compared to similar patches when used in laparoscopic ventral hernia repairs.

As of October 13, 2017, there were 116 lawsuits pending in the Multi-District Litigation (“MDL”) proceeding in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. MDL proceedings are meant to streamline and consolidate numerous cases filed against the same defendant.  These suits allege that the use of Ethicon’s Physiomesh in hernia repair procedures resulted in complications such as pain, infection, hernia recurrence, adhesion, intestinal blockage, mesh migration, mesh shrinkage, and the need for revision surgeries. There are also allegations of permanent internal organ damage as a result of complications associated with Physiomesh.

Hernia mesh is a medical device that is used to repair hernias, which occur when internal organs bulge out through a weak spot of muscle. The only way to permanently fix a hernia is with surgery. However, hernias often return and need another surgery. To reduce this risk, surgeons implant hernia mesh inside the body to reinforce weak tissue. Most of the mesh devices are made from synthetic materials like polypropylene, a kind of plastic.  Some type of hernia mesh product is used in more than half of all hernia surgeries in the United States.

Unfortunately, patients that have had a hernia repaired with mesh are experiencing a number of complications including:

  • Pain

All of us have been taught the importance of being personally responsible and accountable for our actions. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Bills that will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for citizens harmed by the wrongdoing of others to seek justice in our nation’s courts. Congress is proposing legislation that will make lawsuits brought by injured patients, nursing home residents, and their families nearly impossible to pursue. This so-called “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017” (Bill H.R. 1215) will rig the system against individuals and tip the scales in favor of doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and their insurance companies. These bills seek to prevent medical care providers who commit negligence from being held accountable for the injuries and damages they cause. Instead of protecting our most vulnerable citizens, such as nursing home residents, Congress is attempting to enact laws that will benefit only the corporations that run nursing homes and the companies that insure them.

Unfortunately, certain politicians, who are supported in large part by corporations and insurance companies, are proposing these laws that are designed to destroy your right to hold wrongdoers accountable for their negligent acts and omissions.  If passed, the Bills proposed will radically change existing laws and radically limit citizens’ access to courts.  The proposed Bills include the following:

  1. A law designed to protect doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and medical device manufacturers by limiting compensation for injuries caused by their negligence to $250,000, regardless of how egregious their conduct was or how much the injury has devastated a victim’s life.

Our firm has been suing nursing homes since the 1990s.  In fact, Suthers Law Firm was one of the first firms in the United States to obtain a successful jury verdict against a nursing home for neglecting and abusing a resident.  When we first started accepting these cases in the 1990s, the two most common types of injuries that we saw recurring in nursing homes were pressure sores and fall-related injuries. Regrettably, 20 years later, these are still the two most common injuries we see in the nursing home setting.  Fall-related injuries significantly impact the lives of residents and their families.  Some of the more significant, life-altering injuries resulting from falls in nursing homes include hip fractures and subdural hematomas (brain bleeds).  When a resident falls in a nursing home and suffers a serious injury, it often causes, or contributes to the cause, of impairment, disability, and a decrease in enjoyment of life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has studied the impact of falls on elderly individuals.  As many as 75% of elderly individuals who reside in nursing homes sustain at least one fall yearly.  That is twice as much as the number of falls among older individuals living at home or within the community at large.  According to the CDC, as many as 20% of the falls that occur in nursing homes result in a serious injury.

In examining why falls occur in nursing homes, one must look at the patients’ risk factors as well as environmental factors.  Often, residents of nursing homes have medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, impairment from a prior stroke, diabetic neuropathy, and visual impairment, which can affect their balance and ability to walk.  Residents may also have conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, that can affect their judgment.  These conditions place the residents at an increased risk of falling.  It is the nursing home’s duty to recognize these risk factors and take steps to prevent falls or lessen the risk of falls and fall-related injuries.  Nursing homes also have a duty to address any environmental hazards, such as clutter in the hallways, inadequate lighting, slippery floor surfaces, and lack of adequate safety equipment in rooms and bathrooms, in an effort to prevent falls.