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Jury Clears Nursing Home, Hospital Over Refusal To Place Mentally Ill Bedsore Patient On Ventilator

Posted by David Siegel on Dec 22, 2016 4:29:55 PM

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Plaintiff's attorney Jeffrey Antonson and defense attorney Greg Blaies deliver their closing statements. Click here to see video from the trial. 

Dallas - A Texas state court jury has found that a hospital acted properly by following instructions in a mentally ill woman’s do-not-resuscitate order that her children claim she couldn’t have knowingly signed, when the hospital refused to place her on a ventilator after she developed pneumonia. 

The jury returned the verdict on December 16, the morning after hearing closing arguments in a trial that began on December 5. The panel rejected allegations from the adult children of Diane Rimert that she developed bedsores due to supposedly negligent treatment received at the Pennsylvania Rehabilitation LP nursing home in Fort Worth, or that Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital should have made greater efforts to prolong her life. 

Rimert, who suffered from bipolar disorder with psychosis, died in 2012 at the age of 67 after developing pneumonia that her attorneys claim was caused by an immune system compromised by her bedsores. 

Rimert’s attorneys claimed proper physical therapy could have prevented the bedsores in the nursing home, and that the hospital wasn’t obligated to honor the DNR order if it had doubts about her mental competency. However attorneys for Pennsylvania Rehab, the hospital and Rimert’s caregivers argued that her bedsores could not be prevented even with proper treatment, and that her DNR order was legally binding. 

During closing arguments, Jeffrey Antonson of Adkerson Hauder & Benzey PC asked the jury to return a verdict in the millions for Rimert’s children, but did not provide a specific dollar amount. A defense attorney had claimed during his opening statement that Rimert’s family stated in court filings they would pursue an award of $10 million. 

The full trial was recorded and webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network. 

The trial took nearly two weeks to complete due to the large number of individually represented parties. Pennsylvania Rehab, Texas Health Harris, Rimert’s physician in the nursing home and a physician’s assistant each retained separate counsel. The result was a parade of five opening and five closing arguments and multiple cross-examinations of each witness. 

Antonson argued to jurors that Rimert’s mental illness was so severe that she should never have been allowed to make life or death decisions like those required when signing a DNR order. He explained that Rimert’s bedsores began to improve when she received treatment in a hospital, and that she could have recovered from her pneumonia. 

George Michael Stewart of Stewart Wiegand & Owens PC, representing Pennsylvania Rehab, responded that while Rimert’s condition declined over time, she was sufficiently competent when she signed the DNR to make her own decisions. He also added that she refused to engage in the types of physical therapy which could have helped prevent her bedsores from worsening, like keeping her feet propped up on special pillows. 

"Every patient in this country has the right to refuse treatment, mentally ill or not," he said. "The reality is, this was her choice. She decided long ago that 'I didn't want to be resuscitated. I didn't want feeding tubes' ... even if it wasn't a rational decision for her, it was her right to make that decision."

Harris Methodist Hospital attorney Greg Blaies of Blaies & Hightower LLP described to jurors how Rimert was largely estranged from her children and had selected a neighbor she grew close to through her church to have medical power of attorney if she became incapacitated. 

Once that neighbor, Doris Jannigan, refused to put Rimert on a ventilator, Blaies said that state law required her children to seek court intervention, because the hospital had to comply with a legally valid care directive. Rimert’s children did not seek a court order overturning the DNR. 

“Basically, our obligation was to follow those documents as is,” Blaies said. 

The trial took place before Judge Martin Hoffman in Dallas County’s 68th Civil District Court. The full proceedings, along with other nursing home negligence and medical malpractice trials, are available as part of CVN’s one-of-a-kind online trial video archive. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Darrell Adkerson and Jeffrey Antonson of Adkerson Hauder & Benzey PC.

Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital is represented by Greg Blaies of Blaies & Hightower LLP.

Pennsylvania Rehab LP is represented by Michael Stewart of Stewart Wiegand & Owens PC.

Nursing home physician Adolphis Lewis is represented by Stephen Johnson of Stephen W. Johnson & Associates, and Josephine Juleau, a physician’s assistant at PA Rehab, is represented by C. Timothy Reynolds of Steed Dunnill Reynolds Bailey Stephenson LLP.

The case is Greg Frausto, et al. v. Pennsylvania Rehab LP, et al., case number DC-12-13131.

Email David Siegel at [email protected]

Topics: Medical Malpractice, healthcare