The Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated a jury verdict for compensatory damages against Americare Systems, Inc., the management company of Celebration Way, an assisted living facility in Shelbyville. The Supreme Court remanded the jury verdict for punitive damages to the Court of Appeals for further review. A jury returned a verdict against various defendants, including Americare, totaling $300,000 in compensatory damages, and $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.
In 2003, Farrar, age 83 and in good health other than occasional constipation, resided at Celebration Way. The nursing staff was under doctor’s orders to give Farrar one dose of MiraLAX, an over-the-counter laxative, each morning, but frequently failed to give her the medicine over a number of months. After Celebration Way’s failure to give her any prescribed MiraLAX in March 2004, and only five doses in April, Farrar became seriously constipated. Her doctor prescribed enemas, which the facility’s staff failed to administer as directed. On May 29, 2004, the nursing staff gave Farrar an enema without first checking her abdomen. The enema caused Ferrar’s colon to rupture and she died shortly thereafter.
Farrar’s daughters sued, alleging that Americare’s failure to adequately staff Celebration Way caused or contributed to her death. The jury agreed and returned a verdict in the plaintiffs’ favor. The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment against Americare, ruling that there was no evidence that understaffing caused Farrar’s death. The Tennessee Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, ruled that the plaintiffs 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 Supreme Court reinstated the jury verdict against Americare for compensatory damages but remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to review the punitive damages award.