The Elder Law Forum By Michael Myers
USD School of Law Knee Surgery Leads to Premature Death Knee surgery â�?�? indirectly â�?�? can lead to death. It did for a 66-year-old woman whose nephew called the senior legal helpline. Her knee had been severely damaged by arthritis, making it difficult to perform simple activities such walking or climbing stairs. â�?�?She was continuously in pain,â�? he said. She had tried medications and walking supports without success. Her doctor recommended knee replacement surgery. He informed her that by resurfacing her left knee she would have less pain, avoid leg deformity and be able to return to normal activities within three months. She underwent surgery and two days of knee rehabilitation exercises in the hospital. Her surgeon prescribed an additional 10 days of rehab to be provided within a skilled nursing facility located on the hospital campus. Medicare covers the first 20 days of such care at no cost. â�?�?It happened on the third day she was there,â�? the nephew said. â�?�?We received a telephone call telling us she had fallen and had been returned to the hospital. It turned out she struck her head on the tile floor, sustaining a fatal injury. She died after one day in intensive care. â�?�?The reason we are calling you is that we received a letter from an unidentified employee of the nursing home stating that her fall was due to being left unattended, sitting precariously in her bed. It stated that her fall was due to negligence caused by understaffing and the failure to comply with established safety precautions. It was on nursing home stationery. â�?�?What should we do?â�? he asked. Special certification is required for a nursing home to provide skilled care and be eligible for Medicare reimbursement. It must provide RNs, LPNs, and nursesâ�?�? assistants on a 24-hour basis. â�?�?If your auntâ�?�?s fall was the result of inadequate staffing and she was improperly left unattended, her estate may have a claim for wrongful death,â�? I advised. The daughter is the sole immediate heir. â�?�?Health is wealth,â�? observed Aristotle. When one personâ�?�?s negligence deprives another of her or his healthâ�?�?and in this case lifeâ�?�?our system of jurisprudence permits a recovery in the form of moneyâ�?�?a poor substitute for health or life. I referred the caller to a law firm specializing in nursing home litigation. Knee surgery, in this case, led to premature death. (Pro bono legal information and advice is available through the USD Senior Legal Helpline, 1-800-747-1895; firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions solely those of the author and not the University of South Dakota).