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Arizona Supreme Court reinstates wrongful death case against nursing home

By Zachary Lewis | Jul 7, 2017

Medical malpractice 01

PHOENIX (Legal Newsline) – The Arizona Supreme Court has overturned a lower court order granting summary judgment to health care provider ManorCare over the death of a patient.

ManorCare – a national hospice and home health care agency – is accused of the neglect, abuse and consequential death of Sandra Shaw, a patient of a ManorCare facility located in Tucson. The case at hand was filed by Marika Delgado, Shaw’s sister and representative of her estate.

According to the court’s opinion, in March 2012, Shaw was admitted to ManorCare for physical therapy, occupational therapy and nursing care after being treated and discharged from multiple hospitals between late 2011 and early 2012.

At the time, she was afflicted with a number of severe pulmonary and kidney conditions, but her health had been allegedly improving during her time at the hospice. However, late April 2012, Shaw’s health began to decline due to a septic infection, court documents state. 

Shaw’s primary physician, Dr. Gordon J. Cuzner, was allegedly aware of the infection from a urinalysis run during its early stages but had not ordered any treatment to stave off the disease.

Shaw’s condition worsened and she eventually succumbed to the infection on May 1, 2012. Delgado held Cuzner, ManorCare and several entities related to ManorCare responsible claiming “abuse and neglect of a vulnerable adult under” the Adult Protective Services Act (APSA). Cuzner and ManorCare filed a motion for a summary judgment that was granted by the Pima County Superior Court.

The court made its ruling based on the McGill test, four pass-fail criteria which determines whether an injured party can be consider vulnerable under the APSA, APSA violations and allowable legal action. The test requires the abuse to be between a caregiver and patient; to be “closely connected” to their relationship; to be linked to services the caregiver provides due to the incapacity of the patient; and to be related to the reason(s) behind their incapacity.

The Pima County court ruled in favor of ManorCare, determining Shaw’s death was caused by sepsis and not from conditions that resulted in her “incapacity.” 

Delgado’s argument failed the fourth criteria of the McGill test, exonerating ManorCare and Cuzner, the trial court found. Delgado appealed the decision, however, and the Court of Appeals determined under the McGill test there was grounds to go to trial.

The state Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment, rejecting ManorCare and Cuzner’s use of the results of the McGill test for their defense. According to the court’s opinion, the test is difficult to apply to patients with multiple health conditions, such as the case with Shaw, and recognized the APSA has its own set of conditions for identifying legitimacy in an abuse claim that are straightforward.

The court also concluded Delgado has ample cause to file against ManorCare, as medical records and expert affidavits demonstrated Shaw’s invalidity and that ManorCare provided inadequate treatment for Shaw during her final days.

The case was remanded back to the Superior Court for further deliberation.

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