Times-Standard - 2010's Biggest Trial Verdict

Journalist Matt Drange of the Eureka Times-Standard covered the Lavender v. Skilled Healthcare jury trial, writing in depth in a three part series the stories underlying the class action law suit against Skilled Healthcare.  Drange noted that it was the longest civil trial in Humboldt County history, and the $677 million verdict was the largest trial result in the United States in 2010.

Drange noted that patients like Diana Medal, a class member and resident in the Granada Healthcare Facility in Eureka, went through a “living hell.”  Chronic nursing understaffing at the facility meant call lights weren’t answered, bed pans were not provided and incontinent patients were left in their own waste.   "It wasn’t that nursing staff didn’t care," Medal said, "it’s that they didn’t have time. "

Former CNA Vali McGrath couldn’t take the chronic understaffing anymore and advised her supervisor that if they didn’t give her another staff CNA on that shift she would have to walk out.

Cindy Cool, who’s father Jack Sterns was an Alzheimer’s patient at Eureka Healthcare and Rehabilitation stated that when visiting him she would find his sweat pants soiled and urine dripping down into his shoes, and she saw other patients walking around with their catheters dragging on the ground leaving a trail of urine behind them.  The staff at Eureka Healthcare and Rehabilitation didn’t even know that her father had dentures when she asked when the last time they had been cleaned.  Ms. Cool echoed that the staff really did care for the patients but were so short handed they simply couldn’t care for everyone.

The class action case was built around California Health and Safety Code Section 1430 (b), which allowed individuals to sue over violations of patients rights such as understaffing.   Even though the statute allowed for a maximum amount of damages of only $500 per violation, once the 1.3 million violations were multiplied by the number of patient days, the jury did the arithmetic and rendered the huge verdict.

Janssen Law Firm lead trial counsel Timothy Needham and Michael Crowley noted that the defendants fought tooth and nail on every issue in the case.  The team of plaintiffs’ trial counsel logged nearly 29,000 hours of lawyer time on the case, spent more than $1.7 million on case costs, survived 129 law and motion matters, 14 writs and two appeals.  The six and a half month long trial was the tip of the iceberg of the amount of underlying time that went into the case.

All three parts of Mr. Drange’s coverage of the Skilled Healthcare matter can be found at the Times-Standard website - by using the following links:

1. 'I went through hell' - Patients, nurses share their stories in wake of lawsuit.

2.  Fighting 'tooth and nail' - The agreement that kept a company alive.

3. 'Business as usual' - Injunction looming for Humboldt County facilities in lawsuit.

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