By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On December 1, 2016, the family of a mentally ill woman, Diane Rimert, who died of pneumonia, urged a Texas jury to find a nursing home and a hospital liable for her death. The family alleged that the nursing home neglected her and that the hospital wrongfully recognized a do-not-resuscitate document that she signed while unable to care for herself.
Patient Suffering From Mental Illness.
Rimert lived with severe bipolar disorder and delusions. She lived the last years of her life in a Pennsylvania rehabilitation nursing home after she was arrested and involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.
Poor Living Conditions In The Nursing Home.
Jeffrey D. Antonson of Adkerson Hauder & Benzey PC, an attorney for Rimert’s three adult children, told jurors in Dallas County that Rimert developed severe bedsores in her feet and lower half of her body, stating that this confirmed she had been neglected. The attorney claimed there was also proof that Rimert was left in her own excrement until her flesh began to decay and this took away her body’s ability to fend off pneumonia, he said.
Her Final Days.
Rimert was taken to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, where she was left to die because she had signed what appeared to be a valid legal documents concerning her end-of-life decisions. She signed the documents when she first arrived at the nursing home when, it is alleged, she was mentally ill. The document stated that she did not want to be rescuscitated and gave her medical power of attorney to her neighbor rather than her children. She died in February 2012.
Attorney Anderson stated: “What makes sense here? Is a mentally ill woman — bipolar disorder, with psychosis, a woman who had delusions that she was different people — is she responsible for her own suffering and for her own death? Or is there one or more of the defendants sitting before you that is responsible for her suffering and her death?”
Attorney George Michael Stewart of Stewart Wiegand & Owens, PC, representing the nursing home, argued that Rimert was generally an uncooperative patient and although she was mentally ill, she was deemed competent when she signed the do-not-resuscitate and medical power-of-attorney documents. “Every patient in this country has the right to refuse treatment, mentally ill or not,” he said. “The reality is, this was her choice. She decided long ago that, ‘I didn’t want to be rescuscitated, I didn’t want feeding tubes’ … even if it wasn’t a rational decision for her, it was her right to make that decision.”
Stewart also stated that Rimert’s children, who are seeking compensation for the loss of their mother, had suffered serious abuse at her hand since they were small and were mostly estranged from her. Rimert always became violent and enraged in the presence of one of her sons, and she had last seen her daughter in 1996, he said.
Stewart said they lost their mother a long time ago to the mental illness, not pneumonia.
Comment by Editor
This is certainly a tragic case. And Ms. Rimert, if she really understood what she was signing at the time (and that is a big problem if counselors and intake coordinators in these institutions are not adequately explaining end-of-life decision documents to their new residents), it was her right to make the decision. The law presumes every person is competent until a court declares her to be mentally incompetent. But as ill as she apparently was, this seems to be a real question.
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Lowery, Brandon. “Nursing Home, Hospital Caused Woman’s Death, Jury Told.” Law360. (Dec. 1, 2016). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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