District Court Judge Patrick McElyea last week issued a ruling rescinding punitive damages against Mill Valley Care Center in Bellevue, which will relieve the local nursing home from paying out $1.37 million to the Nemmers family, who successfully sued the facility after the death of 84-year-old Jeanette Konrardy.
Mill Valley, which appealed the verdict, will still have to pay $800,000 to the family.
Konrardy’s children – Kim Cueno, Michael Nemmers, Kevin Nemmers, John Nemmers, Beth Radil, Brian Nemmers and Terry Nemmers – filed suit against the Bellevue nursing home and its owner and operator, Riverview Development Corp., in 2017 with a jury reaching a verdict in December 2019.
“We were pleased to learn of the District Court’s decision to dismiss the punitive damages related to a lawsuit filed against Mill Valley Care Center by the estate of a former resident,” said Mill Valley Administrator Jim Harkness. “The sudden passing of any resident is difficult and painful for family members, and this unfortunate situation has been sad for everyone involved. However, the staff at Mill Valley Care Center remains committed to enriching the lives of our residents through kind, compassionate care.”
The Nemmers family sued Mill Valley Care Center in Bellevue after their mother fell at the nursing home and then died five days later.
Konrardy lived at Mill Valley from 2012 to early 2016. She fell Jan. 19, 2016, when she was left alone in the bathroom while a staff member reached to get clothes outside the bathroom, according to the plaintiff’s attorneys.
Konrardy suffered traumatic brain injury, vertebrae fractures and facial fractures. Her death certificate lists the immediate cause of death as blunt force trauma.
The plaintiff’s attorney said the family was suing for two reasons: The family alleged Mill Valley staff left Konrardy alone in her bathroom where she should not have been left alone, and they allege that Mill Valley refused to take responsibility for leaving Konrardy alone.
In the court documents filed last week concerning the appeal, Judge McElyea said the plaintiffs failed to prove that the actions Mill Valley took prior to the fall were sufficient to warrant punitive damages.
“The Plaintiffs did not prove that Mill Valley or their employees acted with ‘heedless disregard or indifference to the rights’ of Ms. Konrardy,” the judge stated. “The Plaintiffs did not present clear, convincing, and satisfactory evidence that Mill Valley engaged in a “persistent course of conduct’ where they showed ‘no care with disregard of consequences.’”
“Simply put, the Plaintiffs failed to carry their burden in proving that the actions Mill Valley took prior to the fall on January 19, 2016, were willful and wanton or even sufficiently reckless to warrant punitive damages,” added the judge.
He said the overall tenor of the plaintiffs’ experts centered on negligence by Mill Valley. They conceded on direct testimony that there were situations where Mill Valley met Konrardy’s needs. They discussed the interventions Mill Valley put in place to limit falls in the dining room and in Konrardy’s room. The experts acknowledged that not all falls can be prevented, and they were not critical of Mill Valley’s conduct surrounding some of Konrardy’s prior falls.
The crux of the testimony was that Mill Valley had poor care planning and their nurses and nurses’ aides made a particularly poor decision on January 19, 2016.
However, the Court noted that plaintiffs experts made significant assumptions about what actually happened in Konrardy’s room when she fell.
“These assumptions do not provide sufficient proof to meet the clear and convincing burden,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “In the Court’s review of the evidence, the experts did not provide sufficient evidence to support the award of punitive damages.
“There was little to no evidence in their testimony that demonstrated that this case was something more egregious than negligence. While much of the conduct of Mill Valley surrounding the fall is objectionable, it is not egregious.”
In opening arguments during the original trial last year, the defense and plaintiffs agreed that Konrardy suffered from progressive dementia and had a debilitating stroke that weakened the right side of her body.
Both sides also agreed that Konrardy was a known fall risk and that she had fallen between seven and 10 times while she was living in the nursing home. They also agreed that the injuries resulting from Konrardy’s fall caused her death.
The defense also said Mill Valley followed Konrardy’s resident care plan, which stated that she needed one assistant (such as a nurse’s aide) to transfer her and take her to the bathroom.
The Konrardy family and Mill Valley filed incident complaints with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, which oversees such cases.
A surveyor investigated the complaints for three days at the nursing home.
The defense showed a letter to the jury in which the surveyor concluded that Mill Valley had “appropriate supervision” and “provided interventions to keep the resident safe.”