NAPLES — A Collier jury deliberated about a half-hour Friday before finding NCH Downtown Naples Hospital wasn’t negligent in the death of a Royal Harbor woman who fell out of bed.
The three-woman, three-man jury, which heard four days of testimony from 13 witnesses, checked “no” when asked if NCH was negligent and if that negligence was the legal cause of the death of 76-year-old Bernadine Minarcin on March 13, 2009.
A nurse testified she found Minarcin unconscious, lying face down in a pool of blood sprinkled with shattered teeth fragments.
Falls are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the elderly, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Minarcin and her husband, John, operated Bernadine’s antique shop on Fifth Avenue South in Naples in the 1980s.
Michelle Minarcin Craft, who sued NCH last year, was overcome with emotion after the verdict, her eyes red from crying.
Calling it a “horrific tragedy,” she contended jurors were misled by NCH, its attorney, Kevin Crews, and three defense expert witnesses. She noted NCH’s own investigation showed the bed alarm malfunctioned, but jurors never heard that because Crews successfully argued that was “privileged” information.
“The bed alarms did not sound — and no one could have ever heard them … when my beloved mother, totally immobilized from a stroke, somehow fell to the ground in a flat-face fall,” Craft said. “As a result, at the time of her fall, no one came to her assistance, lying face down in a pool of blood, unconscious for an undetermined time.”
Craft referred to contradictions in testimony, which showed her mother’s sheets were changed at 10:57 p.m. March 12, 2009, that she fell at 11 p.m., or at 1:30 a.m. the next morning, when the family was called.
“Her roommate finally took the action to ring the call button, an action that she now denies because her daughter works for NCH,” Craft said of the woman telling jurors she didn’t remember anything.
Craft also contended other facts were “stifled.”
The case focused on NCH’s policy of using two or three bedrails for patients at risk of falling and alarms to alert them to patients trying to get out of bed.
Plaintiff’s attorney James O’Leary contended three rails, not two, should have been used to prevent the fall, and that the bed alarm wasn’t checked and didn’t work.
It was the second trial in the case, which ended in a mistrial in May after jurors deliberated five hours and were hung. Two weeks ago, another NCH bed-fall death case involving a 91-year-old woman also ended in a defense verdict.
Crews, who left the courthouse with hospital administrators, said they had no comment. O’Leary, said only “The jury has spoken.”
Jurors couldn’t be reached for comment.
Testimony showed Minarcin had medical problems, including diabetes, congenital heart disease and emphysema, but hadn’t been to a hospital in 1½ years — until she got a letter saying she needed to have a Pacermaker lead changed.
The morning after the operation, she had respiratory trouble and went to the emergency room, where doctors inflated her lungs to ease breathing. But she suffered a stroke in the hall, was admitted and her family remained with her until they were told to leave late that afternoon.
Early the next morning, they received a call about the fall.
O’Leary focused on the alarm, contradictions in testimony and noted an autopsy by Dr. Manfred Borges, the deputy county medical examiner, listed the cause of death as blunt-force trauma.
But Crews told jurors even Borges agreed she suffered complications from her stroke, a clot and that it was “the overwhelming cause of death.” Crews also noted that there was no bleeding in her skull from the fall, a bed alarm wouldn’t have prevented the fall, and that patients can’t be restrained in beds.
On Thursday, Craft sobbed as she told jurors about seeing her mother unconscious, bloody and bruised.
“Her eyes were swollen, bruised, like she’d been hit by a baseball bat,” Craft testified, adding that tampons were in her nose to absorb blood, which also was being suctioned from her mouth. “... It was horrific. She could hardly breathe. You could tell she was struggling.”
When she described her mother dying, her father bent over, heaving with sobs, as his son, Bernard, consoled him.
John Minarcin took the stand minutes later and described losing “the love of his life,” his high school sweetheart, a week before their 56th anniversary. Her medical problems were under control, he said, and they bowled, fished, watched ball games and “did everything together.”
“I never really did find out what happened that night,” Minarcin said. “The next day, she passed away.”