Nursing Home Wrongful Death Wake v. SSC Greeley

Posted on Nov 19th, 2013 in Uncategorized

Helen Wake was a resident of Centennial Health Care Center, a facility run by SSC Greeley Centennial Operating Company, LLC (“Centennial”). On October 11, 2009, Ms. Wake was dropped to the floor when a certified nurse assistant was using a sling to move her from her bed to a wheel chair. The fall occurred because the sling straps slid off the support bar. Ms. Wake died the next day. Ms. Wake’s son, Roy Wake, brought a wrongful death action in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado against Centennial and Sava Senior Care Administrative Services, LLC, Civil Action No. 11-cv-02630-WJM-MEH. The case came before the Court on the Defendants motion for partial summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages. In an order dated October 10, 2003, the Court denied the motion for summary judgment. Wake v. SSC Greeley Centennial Operating Company, LLC et al., 2013 WL 5586937 (D.Colo.).

The record showed that Centennial investigated the accident and generated an incident report, which was signed on October 14, 2009. The investigation revealed a number of causes for the incident, including the maintenance director’s failing to install the correct safety clip on the sling bar. After the incident, the maintenance director received disciplinary action for failing to timely address a safety issue with the mechanical lift. In order to sustain his claim for punitive damages, the plaintiff was required to demonstrate that the defendants’ conduct was willful and wanton, beyond a reasonable doubt. Willful and wanton conduct is conduct that is purposefully committed, which the defendant must have realized to be dangerous, done heedlessly and recklessly, without regard to the consequences or the safety of others. 2013 WL 5586937, *3.

The Court rejected the defendants’ argument that there was no evidence that the maintenance director acted willfully and wantonly. The investigation revealed that a few weeks before the accident the maintenance director had been asked to replace the safety clip but had failed to do so. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the Court found there was a genuine dispute of fact whether the maintenance director’s actions were willful and wanton. Id. at *4. Likewise, the Court found that a reasonable jury could conclude that the maintenance director’s actions were a contributing cause of the incident. Id.

The Court also rejected the defendants’ arguments that they should not be held liable for punitive damages because the maintenance director was not a managerial employee. “A corporate defendant is liable for exemplary damages only where an agent of the corporation employed in a managerial capacity engaged in willful and wanton conduct in the scope of employment.” Id. at *5. The plaintiff asserted that language in the maintenance director’s job description showed he acted in a managerial capacity, and in his deposition he testified that he attended dialing meetings of department managers. He also had supervisory authority over one maintenance technician. Based upon this evidence the Court determined that the scope of the maintenance director’s managerial status was in genuine dispute. Id. at *6.

The attorneys at Gregory R. Giometti & Associates, P.C., have extensive experience handling wrongful death actions. If you require help with a wrongful death case, including a case arising out of the alleged negligence of a nursing home, please call Gregory R. Giometti & Associates, P.C. at (303) 333-1957.

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