Virginia: Patient Fall – a Lawyer’s Headline

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On September 19, 2012, The Virginia Gazette headlined “No alarms alerted that patient fell,” and subheadlined “Chart was allegedly ‘laundered’”. The article covers the $4,500,000.00 medical malpractice suit, William M. Snovell, Executor of the Estate of Bernadette Teresa Connelly Snovell, Deceased v. Williamsburg Facility Operations, LLC, et al., Case No.: CL12004966, in the Circuit Court for York County, Virginia.

As the Snovell lawsuit and The Virginia Gazette article recount, the patient was “high-risk” for falling and allegedly should have had the benefit of a bed alarm as protection against falling. Yet she was not provided a bed alarm by Consulate Health Care of Williamsburg, predictably suffered a patient fall, and fortuitously was heard yelling for help by a visitor (not by Consulate Health Care nurses).

As the Snovell lawsuit and The Virginia Gazette also state, the patient suffered multiple rib fractures and a serious lung injury; but Consulate Health Care nurses simply put the patient back to bed, charted “fall without injury” that night and charted “no pain or discomfort” the next morning. In truth, however, the patient was complaining of severe pain, but was not rushed to the Emergency Room at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center until the following afternoon, and suffered allegedly wrongful death days later.

The Virginia Gazette quoted Mr. Waterman in Snovellpatient “falls are a chronic problem at nursing facilities and most are predictable and avoidable. He added that some manufacturers even build bed alarms . . . into hospital beds.” Id. at 12A.

Mr. Waterman has been a legal pioneer in Virginia patient falls, handling such cases for two decades. His 2005 $1,650,000.00 jury verdict for a patient fall victim in Newport News was upheld by the Virginia Supreme Court in Riverside v. Johnson, 272 Va. 518 (2006).