An Iowa jury found Midwest Ambulance of Iowa 10% at fault in the death of an 89-year-old nursing home resident who suffered a fatal head injury when the gurney he was on tipped over because of cracked pavement on the nursing home’s driveway. The nursing home, Friendship Manor, was found liable for 90% of the $546,000 total verdict.
The patient, Wilbur Jackson, had been at the nursing home for 17 days recovering from hip surgery, when his physician ordered testing at a nearby hospital. Midwest Ambulance was called to carry out the transport.
Mr. Jackson was conscious, alert and talking to staff immediately prior to the accident. The wheels of the gurney snagged on a crack in the pavement, and the gurney tipped over, allowing Mr. Jackson’s head to strike the pavement. He lapsed into a coma and never regained consciousness before he died a few days later.
Nursing home personnel admitted in deposition testimony that they were aware of the crack in the pavement for quite some time prior to the accident. They believed that, even though the crack was large enough that rebar under the pavement was visible, the rebar was not sticking up far enough through the concrete to be a safety hazard. As evident from the verdict, the jury disagreed.
Fortunately for Midwest Ambulance, it was found liable for only 10% of the verdict, or $54,600. A variety of factors could have impacted the EMS service’s liability, including how obvious or obscured the pavement crack was, whether the EMS crew was familiar with the nursing home grounds and had prior knowledge of the irregularity in the pavement, the time of day and lighting (or lack thereof) in the area where the accident occurred, and how the patient was secured on the gurney.
Of course, many “patient drop” cases involve incidents that occur at residences or places other than a health care facility. Of those that occur in or outside a health care facility, the EMS service is, in my experience, usually the “target” defendant rather than the facility. In this case, there was strong evidence of a hazardous condition on the premises of the nursing home, and the jury determined that the vast majority of the fault should be assigned to the nursing home.
A good article on the jury verdict can be found at this link: