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Abuse Victim Wins Award

Times Staff Writer

In one of the largest verdicts against a California nursing home in recent years, a Los Angeles County jury has awarded more than $12 million to a 62-year-old nursing home resident who had his leg amputated as a result of an infected bedsore.

Jurors determined that Western Convalescent Hospital and its owners were liable for elder abuse, neglect and fraud in their treatment of Kenneth F. Morris after he was admitted to the facility in 2002.

Thursday’s verdict capped a three-week trial in which Morris’ attorneys blamed the Jefferson Park neighborhood nursing home for cutting corners on staffing requirements.

“This jury ... saw that this was literally putting money over people and they didn’t like it, and they wanted to send a message,” said attorney Robert Chavez.

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But a lawyer for Western Convalescent said Friday that the facility was not responsible for Morris losing his leg. Medical staff did all they could to treat his injury, which Morris had when he arrived at the facility, said attorney Tom Beach.

“Western Convalescent Hospital is one of the best skilled-nursing facilities in L.A. County. It has an amazing record of quality care,” Beach said, adding that he plans to ask a judge to reduce the verdict.

Morris, a paraplegic who suffers from schizophrenia, developed a bedsore on his right heel in November 2002 that eventually became infected.

His attorneys alleged that nurses at Western Convalescent did not take simple measures to relieve the pressure on his foot, which grew so infected that his bone became exposed.

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“All they had to do was put a pillow under his heel,” said James Morgan, who manages the Rancho Palos Verdes office of Wilkes & McHugh, the law firm representing Morris.

Adding to the lack of care was poor staffing, Morgan said.

State law requires nursing homes to provide at least 3.2 hours of nursing hours per resident each day. The home’s own records, Morris’ attorneys said, showed that it failed to meet that standard 50% of the time from December 2002 through April 2003. The following month, Morris’ leg was amputated below the knee.

Morris’ attorneys said the facility had previously been faulted by state regulators for failing to meet the nursing hour requirements.

Western Convalescent’s attorney said the facility often had more-qualified non-nursing staff treating patients than the required number of nurses, but they couldn’t be counted toward the state’s patient-nurse ratio requirements.

In addition, Beach said that Morris himself shared the blame for his injuries, describing him as uncooperative with doctors with whom he dealt at other facilities.

“He had actually refused the care and treatment of many other doctors and care providers at other hospitals,” Beach said.

Jurors, however, found Morris only 10% responsible for his injuries. They found the nursing home operator and its owner, Longwood Management Corp., 90% responsible and awarded Morris $747,097 in compensation and $12 million in punitive damages.

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A spokeswoman for the California Department of Health Services, which inspects and licenses nursing homes, said state officials had never received a complaint about Morris’ injuries and had no plans to investigate.

The award is believed to be the highest since 1998, when a Siskiyou County jury awarded a nursing home patient $95 million, said Betsy Hite, director of public affairs for the state’s nursing home trade association. In that case, the trial judge later reduced the verdict to $3 million.

Hite said Los Angeles-based Longwood Management Corp., which operates 23 nursing homes in Southern California, is not a member of the California Assn. of Health Facilities. The group includes about 1,100 of the state’s 1,400 nursing homes.


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