A Martinsville, Virginia (VA), criminal court jury found the owner of a small chain of nursing homes guilty of abuse and neglect in relation to the death of a 57-year-old resident of one of the group homes operated by the Claye Corp.
Jurors determined that the disabled patient, Joseph Tuggle, died because he developed a lung infection and blood poisoning (sepsis) after suffering second- and third-degree burns when staff placed him in a tub filled with scalding hot bath water.
Claye Corp. President Richard C. Wagoner Jr. was held responsible for stopping staff from taking the burned man to a hospital and now faces up to 5 years in prison.
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In a statement, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli applauded the conviction, calling the chain of actions that allowed the man to get burned and then go without appropriate medical care examples of "gruesome irresponsibility and depravity." The evidence used to convict Wagoner, as summarized by Cuccinelli, while not suitable reading for the squeamish, is worth quoting at length:
Mr. Tuggle suffered an episode of incontinence, direct care givers placed him in a bathtub while they cleaned the affected area of the house. Mr. Tuggle was placed under a faucet running scalding water and suffered second- and third-degree burns on his legs, face, buttocks, and arm. Ten days later, Mr. Tuggle was found dead in his bed with scabbed burns. The medical examiner determined that Tuggle died from sepsis and pneumonia secondary to thermal injury. His death was ruled as a direct result of the injuries he sustained on February 8, 2011.
According to court testimony, Mr. Tuggle's care givers failed to call 911 or the victim's physician, instead claiming to have called the local hospital's emergency room. The care givers claimed to have received instructions to treat the burns with First Aid ointment. However, hospital policy does not allow personnel to give treatment information over the phone.
An investigation by the attorney general's Health Care Fraud and Elder Abuse section revealed that, following the burn incident, Tuggle's care givers had placed him in a van to transport him to the hospital. However, Wagoner ordered the van to return to the group home. Wagoner then examined Mr. Tuggle's injuries and decided to keep him at the group home instead of providing him with emergency medical treatment.
Abuse and neglect of any nursing home resident is inexcusable. With evidence in this case from Martinsville all pointing toward staff being ordered to deny an incapacitated man needed health care, holding the group home owner criminally liable is entirely warranted.
As a Virginia medical malpractice attorney who specializes in helping nursing home neglect and abuse victims, I know that facts presented at trial can be used by the family to support claims for compensation through a wrongful death civil lawsuit. Any family that has lost a loved one under suspicious, or prvenly criminal, circumstances at a long-term care facility or hospital should contact a lawyer who can help them hold the responsible individuals and organization accountable.