Elderly woman’s estate files wrongful death suit

By Dirk Lammers
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) October 2011

The estate of an 87-year-old woman who died two years ago after falling at a Rosebud Indian Reservation medical center has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government.

Mary Josephine Jones suffered a slight stroke in October 2009 and was admitted to the Indian Health Service Medical Center at Rosebud. The federal lawsuit alleges that the hospital bed rails were improperly left down, and when she got up to go to the bathroom, she fell and hit her head on the toilet and eventually died.

“She’d gotten up and fallen when they weren’t responding to her calls for assistance to go to the bathroom,” Aaron Eiesland, the estate’s attorney, said earlier this month.

A message left with the office of the U.S. Attorney of South Dakota was not immediately returned.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court seeks unspecified damages.

It alleges that the government failed to provide for Jones’ safety and provide sufficient skilled staff, services and supplies to meet her needs.

Eiesland, whose Johnson Eiesland Law Firm handles primarily nursing home neglect and abuse cases, said fall prevention measures were ordered, including raised bed rails, a call button at fingertip reach and assistance for toileting or whenever she had to get out of bed.

“She was an extremely high fall risk,” Eiesland said. “That’s the reason she had come to the facility in the first place. She was having dizziness and instability and was falling.”

But the lawsuit alleges that four days after she was admitted, her bed rails were left down and she was allowed to move from her bed unassisted. When she headed to the bathroom alone, she fell, struck her head and remained on the floor undiscovered for an unknown amount of time.

Jones suffered a subdural hematoma, which is a collection of blood on the surface of the brain, the suit said.

The estate filed an administrative claim in July 2010 with the Indian Health Service, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency, according to the lawsuit.