Duty to Mitigate Damages in a Mississippi Wrongful Death Case

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Nursing home abuse can result in death. Many elderly people are not resilient in the face of ailments that would be minor if they were younger. These ailments can become catastrophic, resulting in death. Even so, their loved ones have a duty to mitigate their damages in Mississippi. “Mitigating damages” means taking steps to reduce damages where possible, such as providing life-saving measures. This concept applies to personal injury and wrongful death cases that arise from 18-wheeler accidents, silicosis, and many other catastrophic injury contexts.

In a recent wrongful death case, a woman’s daughters claimed that a nursing and rehabilitation center had caused their mother’s death by allowing her to become seriously dehydrated. The mother was a resident of the center for more than seven years. She had been diagnosed with diabetes and dementia. In 2006, she was diagnosed with advanced dementia and end-stage dementia. In 2007, she had hypoglycemia and dehydration related to diabetes. She was admitted to a local hospital and was released 2 days after that.

In 2008, she could no longer walk, communicate, or take care of herself. A licensed nurse who cared for her regularly later testified that the woman refused to eat breakfast or lunch. She spit out her medications. An on-call physician told the nurse to withhold the diabetes medication until the woman could be evaluated after the weekend. The decedent’s vital signs were not taken. One of the woman’s daughters was notified, but she could not get her mother to eat either.

She refused to eat again the following day. The daughter found her mother slumped with what looked like a gash on her neck. A registered nurse was paged and found that the mother had developed a rash in the crease on her neck. They called 911, even though the woman was not in distress and did not seem dehydrated.

An EMT found that the woman’s vital signs were normal and therefore didn’t give the woman IV fluids. The woman’s daughter provided her medical history. The ER physician found she was not in acute distress. The ER assessed dehydration, hyperglycemia, thrombocytopenia, sepsis, and a UTI. IV fluids were finally administered.

The decedent’s blood pressure dropped. She was a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) patient. Her respiratory status got worse, but her family wouldn’t allow deep suctioning. The woman died two days later due to respiratory failure, secondary to the UTI, and acute renal failure. She did not die of dehydration. The plaintiffs sued the center.

At trial, the plaintiffs claimed she was in such poor shape because of the center’s negligence and that there was nothing that could be done about her dehydration once she was taken to the hospital. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $1,213,300, which was reduced to $513,300.

The center appealed, arguing that the trial court should not have excluded evidence that the woman’s family had decided to withhold medical treatment at the hospital. In its view, this evidence was relevant to the legal cause of the decedent’s death because it was an “intervening cause” and was relevant to mitigating damages. Among other things, the center also argued that it was denied its rights when the court refused to let it impeach the plaintiffs about their decision to withhold medical treatment from their mother.

The appellate court agreed with the center that the trial court had erred in excluding certain evidence related to the woman’s family’s decision to withhold treatment. The appellate court found it was improper for the trial court to exclude the center’s evidence about the family’s withholding certain medical treatments. The center had argued it was important to introduce the withholding of treatment, such as vasopressors, to reverse shock as a contributory cause of the decedent’s death.

At trial, the plaintiffs had claimed the center’s medical negligence was the sole proximate cause of their mother’s death. The appellate court reasoned that the refusal of medical care was relevant to causation, and the jury should have been able to hear that there was treatment that would have resolved the shock.

It reversed the judgment and sent it back to the lower court. If you are hurt due to somebody else’s negligence, the knowledgeable Mississippi personal injury attorneys of Coxwell & Associates may be able to help recover the damages you deserve and need.

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Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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