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Guilty verdict reinstated in death

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tennessee's supreme court has reinstated a jury verdict against the parent company of a local assisted living facility in a wrongful death suit.

The high court ordered the reinstatement of compensatory damages totalling $300,000 against Americare Systems, Inc., the management company of Celebration Way in Shelbyville.

In 2010, a jury returned a verdict against various defendants, including Americare, for the $300,000, as well as $5,015,000 in punitive damages, in favor of the daughters of Mable Farrar.

Farrar died as a result of the failure of Celebration Way's nursing staff to give Farrar her prescribed medicine and the negligent administration of an enema that caused her colon to rupture, according to the lawsuit.

The jury's verdict for the $5 million in punitive damages has been remanded to the court of appeals for further review, a statement from the high court said late Monday.

Appeal overturned

Last year, the Tennessee Court of Appeals overturned the verdict of more than $5.4 million against the company and two nurses, Dottie Hunt and Mary Ann Steelman. The lower court stated they found "no material evidence" that any staffing deficiencies by Americare caused Farrar's death.

But the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous opinion that the Farrars presented material evidence supporting the jury's finding that Celebration Way was understaffed, that Americare knew it and failed to remedy it, and that the lack of sufficient staff was a substantial factor causing Farrar's death.

The lawsuit was filed in 2005 by Farrar's surviving daughters, Rheaetta T. Wilson and Laurayn F. Watson. Farrar was the widow of former county judge (the position now known as county mayor) Mac Farrar.

During the 2010 trial, the jury had been told by Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell that compensatory damages were to compensate for Farrar's death while the punitive damages were to punish the defendants for their alleged treatment of her.

Dose questions

She died due to "intestinal obstruction due to severe constipation and sepsis caused by the obstruction," court documents said.

Testimony in the trial stated that Steelman performed a procedure that caused a perforation in Farrar's colon.

Much of the 2010 trial was focused on what caused the perforation. Attorneys for Wilson and Watson said that it was Steelman's action that caused the sepsis, while the defense stated that twisting in the colon caused Farrar's death.

It was also proven during the trial that Farrar was supposed to receive 60 doses of Miralax, an over-the-counter laxative solution, in the months of April and May, but was only given 16 doses during that time period, with 11 doses administered one month and only five doses during another month.

Steelman also testified in depositions that she had requested more employees for the facility because she felt they were understaffed, but tried to recant that testimony during the trial.

The high court's opinion was authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee.