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Estate of Evelyn Sample v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

October 11, 2017

ESTATE OF EVELYN SAMPLE
v.
LIFE CARE CENTERS OF AMERICA, INC., ET AL.

          September 13, 2017 Session

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Bradley County No. V-15-545 Michael S. Pemberton, Judge Sitting By Interchange

         The Estate of Evelyn Sample ("the Estate") appeals the March 13, 2017 order of the Circuit Court for Bradley County ("the Trial Court") granting summary judgment to Life Care Centers of America, Inc. and Life Care Center of Cleveland (collectively "Life Care") in this health care liability action. We find and hold that Life Care made a properly supported motion for summary judgment negating an essential element of the Estate's claim, i.e., causation, and that the Estate failed to produce evidence showing a genuine issue of material fact. We, therefore, affirm the grant of summary judgment to Life Care.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed Case Remanded

          C. Mark Warren, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Ginger L. Sample, Personal Representative of the Estate of Evelyn Sample.

          Alan S. Bean, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Life Care Centers of America, Inc. and Life Care Center of Cleveland.

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR. and JOHN W. MCCLARTY, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE

         Background

         Evelyn Sample ("Deceased") was an eighty-nine year old resident at a nursing home operated by Life Care in Bradley County, Tennessee. In November of 2014, Deceased died. The Estate filed suit for health care liability alleging that, per medical orders, Deceased was not to be left lying flat in bed. The Estate further alleged that on the day of her death, Deceased had been left lying flat in bed causing her to suffocate or aspirate and die.

         Life Care filed a motion for summary judgment supported by, among other things, the Estate's response to a request for admissions and the affidavit of Bethany Dragnett, R.N. In its response to the request for admissions, the Estate admitted that Deceased's death certificate "expressly identifies 'ASCVD' [arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease] as the sole cause of Evelyn Sample's death." The Estate also admitted that Deceased suffered arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease prior to the date of her death, that Deceased suffered from congestive heart failure prior to the date of her death, that Deceased's death certificate does not mention the word 'aspiration, ' and that no autopsy of Deceased was requested. In her affidavit, Nurse Dragnett stated that she cared for Deceased during Deceased's stay at Life Care. Nurse Dragnett further stated she specifically cared for Deceased on the day of Deceased's death, and that in Nurse Dragnett's opinion none of the nurses or certified nursing assistants at Life Care breached the standard of care with regard to the care provided to Deceased.

         In response to the motion for summary judgment, the Estate produced an affidavit of Angelia Huff, R.N. and the deposition testimony of Bethany Dragnett, R.N. Nurse Huff's affidavit opined there was a breach in the standard of care by a failure to keep Deceased's bed elevated. In her affidavit, Nurse Huff states: "In my opinion, to [sic] reasonable degree of nursing certainty, failing to keep the bed elevated caused Mrs. Sample to aspirate causing acute respiratory failure and death." During her deposition, Nurse Dragnett testified that she never found Deceased lying flat in bed with the feeding tube on. Nurse Dragnett further testified that she was called to Deceased's room by another employee on the day Deceased died. When she entered the room, Nurse Dragnett found Deceased sitting in a wheelchair not breathing. Nurse Dragnett also testified that she has no idea why Deceased died. Nurse Dragnett stated that Deceased had AFib and had previously had a stroke.

         After a hearing on the motion for summary judgment, the Trial Court entered its order on March 13, 2017 granting summary judgment to Life Care after finding and holding that although the Estate had created a genuine issue with regard to whether Life Care breached the standard of care, the Estate had failed to put forth any competent proof with regard to whether the alleged breach proximately ...


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