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Proposed Settlements Reached In Wrongful Death Lawsuits That Arose From the Intentional Killing of Patients At A Hospital By A Former Nursing Assistant

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is one of the largest health care system in the world. It provides training for most of the United States’ medical, nursing and allied health professionals. The VHA consists of over 1,200 health care facilities – medical centers and outpatient sites – that serve over nine million enrolled veterans each year. The VHA services include surgery, mental health, pharmacy, radiology, physical therapy, dental, and vision care.

Like civilian hospitals, the VA hospitals located within each state and territory have medical professionals to carry out the health care services and needs of the veteran-patients. Such job titles include doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and nursing assistants. Each medical professional plays a pivotal role in the care of the patients at the VA hospital.

In the United States, there are over 1.5 million certified nursing assistants. Commonly referred to as CNAs, they work under the supervision of a nurses. Their help patients with tasks that are physical, complex, and vital to proper medical care, such as:

  • Bathing patients
  • Turning or moving patients
  • Grooming patients (ex. brushing their teeth and hair)
  • Feeding patients
  • Wound care
  • Checking vital signa (ex. blood pressure, heart rate)

State laws set forth the legal duties that CNAs have to their patients. They must perform their work duties at the accepted standard of care in their industry and as required by law. Failure of a CNA to meet the legal duties and standards of care may result in her being held liable for injuries or other harm caused to the patients.

Reta Mays, a former hospital nursing assistant at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in West Virginia admitted to intentionally killing seven patients with fatal doses of insulin. In July 2020, she pleaded guilty to giving the patients wrongful insulin injections. At her plea hearing, she admitted to committing these killings while working the overnight shifts at the hospital between 2017 and 2018. However, she did not give the authorities a satisfactory reason for what her motivation and purpose were behind her actions.

The families of the veterans who died at the hands of Mays filed lawsuits against the hospital. The federal court filings stated that the VA and the VA hospital were negligent as to the murders because they happened under their watch. The hospital and the family members reached proposed settlements ranging in the amount from $700,000 to $975,000 for deaths of respective victims.

The unexpected death of a loved one brings an overwhelming flood of emotions. In addition to the sorrow and grief, many things must be done to prepare for the funeral and burial of the deceased. When a loved one who is intentionally killed by another person, the situation is intensified with anger and the strong need to get justice. The surviving family members may seek to file a lawsuit against all at-fault parties who contributed to the death of their loved one. However, expenses are involved in the funeral and burial process as well as filing a lawsuit. At the same time, normal financial obligation – bills, food, gas – still must be paid. While the financial preparation may have been set in the instance of the person dying, the surviving family may not have the extra money available to cover the costs associated with a lawsuit.

Rather than foregoing the lawsuit, the surviving family members may seek litigation funding to cover legal expenses. Also known as litigation financing, it is a financial option for people who want to seek legal compensation but do not have the funds to do so. A third-party financing company gives the money to pay for the legal fees. The money is an investment rather than a loan because the financing company may not get back the money. “The person receiving the financing only pays the money back to the financing company if he or she wins or settles the lawsuit,” Daren Monroe of Litigation Funding Corporation, Michigan.

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