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Sleeping Health Care Worker Results in Family Tragedy

Posted on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Brianna’s* mother would describe her daughter as a spirited girl who loves to laugh and smile and adores her brothers and sisters. That description could fit most daughters, but for Brianna, all of those seemingly little things were huge for her and her family.

At the time of her birth, in June of 2007, Brianna suffered an anoxic brain injury, which meant that her brain was deprived of oxygen. That caused permanent brain injury which resulted in spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy and left her with a lifetime of respiratory problems. Brianna would spend her young life bed-bound, wheelchair-bound along with a tracheostomy and a feeding tube. From the time she was born, she needed full-time home nursing care, provided by a local home health care company.

Nurse Makes Fatal Error

Brianna’s home health nurse arrived late afternoon on a Saturday in the spring of 2017, to give her treatments and provide the routine but essential care she needed to survive. Her nurse documented that Brianna was happy, calm, and stable and that her breathing was steady with high levels of oxygen in her blood.  Brianna’s nurse continued to document positive vitals throughout the evening and into the early morning hours.

At 4:00 a.m. Brianna’s mother was frantically awakened by the sound of the home health nurse in a panic and screaming that Brianna was unresponsive and turning blue. EMS personnel quickly arrived and rushed Brianna to a local hospital, but because she had been deprived of oxygen for so long, her heart failed, and tragically she died.

A Family Devastated

Her family was devastated, although Brianna was physically limited in what she could do, she was full of life and spirit and was the heart of their family. As she mourned the loss of her daughter, Brianna’s mother started piecing together what happened during the time her daughter was in the care of the home health nurse.  She had more questions than answers. Why didn’t the nurse intervene at the first sign of trouble, call for EMS earlier, or even perform CPR on her daughter? Why was she so panicked, surely as a nurse she’d have had to handle these kinds of situations before hadn’t she?

Brianna’s mother brought these concerns to several law firms who all turned her case down. Cases and circumstances like Brianna’s are tough to prove that there was negligence.  Home health care companies are licensed in such a way that any claim must be brought pursuant to the rules of Florida’s Medical Malpractice Act. What this means is that there has to be proof of negligence through the medical records. In Brianna’s case, the medical chart and documentation made by the home health care nurse, on its face, appeared to be appropriate and within the standard of care.

A Mother Just Knows

There is a saying that a mother knows when something is wrong, and Brianna’s mother was not going to give up trying to find out what happened to her daughter. “I couldn’t let it go without finding out exactly what happened,” explained Brianna’s mother. “The day before she was fine, she even went to daycare.”

It was only when she turned to Coker Law that she finally got the answers to her questions. “Being a mother of two little girls, this case became very personal to me from the moment I met with Brianna’s mother and heard her story,” explains Coker Law’s Medical Malpractice attorney Lindsay Tygart. “Because of the stringent requirements outlined in Florida’s Medical Malpractice Act, I was initially concerned that we may not be able to help this heartbroken family. But I at least wanted to try.”

No Document Went Undiscovered

Coker Law’s Medical Malpractice team combed through documents, researched the history of this local home health care company along with the home health nurse, and pursued evidence that led them to vital information about the morning Brianna died.

Through internal documents and investigative reports obtained from the Agency for Healthcare Administration, Tygart and her team discovered that Brianna’s home health nurse had fallen asleep while she was supposed to be monitoring Brianna’s vital signs. “Through interviews with witnesses and former employees, we confirmed that this home health nurse had been reprimanded for falling asleep during a previous shift,” adds Tygart. “She was not terminated, and the home health care company continued to allow her to care for medically complex patients who required 24-hour monitoring like Brianna.”

It was because of the team’s hard work, dedication, and hours of research sifting through thousands of pages of documents, that they were able to uncover small details, which enabled them to delve deeper into this case and discover the truth. As they continued to uncover more and more information, it became critically important to Tygart and the entire team that there be accountability and that justice would be served. “I was very pleased that Coker Law took my case,” adds Brianna’s mother. “Lindsey and the entire Coker Law family worked very hard; they are great people.”

Despite being able to hold the home health company accountable for its careless mistakes, the recklessness of its nurse employee, and the tragic events surrounding Brianna’s death, her mother says it doesn’t bring the family any relief.  “Nothing will ever be able to replace Brianna and it will never bring her back.  But I appreciate that the legal team was able to gain a settlement that allowed us to leave the home where we lost Brianna and start to heal in a new home.” Brianna’s family misses her every day, but they are comforted to know that they are being watched over by their guardian angel.

Coker Law Can Help You

The medical malpractice trial attorneys at Coker Law know that serious injuries related to medical malpractice can be devastating and that financial losses due to such injuries can be a catastrophic blow to any family. Our goal is to obtain prompt, just, and fair compensation for all of our clients’ losses.  If you suspect that you or someone you love has been a victim of negligent medical care, contact Coker Law at (904) 356-6071 or click here to schedule a consultation

Case Title: Estate of Brianna*, a Minor v. A Local Home Health Care Company

Attorneys/Staff involved in Case: Lindsay L. Tygart, Esq., Heather Brown, Paralegal, Sharon Talbert, Paralegal, and Frances Brozowski, Legal Secretary.

Date of Settlement: June 2020

Amount of Settlement: Confidential