NAPLES — A Collier circuit court jury on Thursday found a medical transport company negligent for leaving an 88-year-old Naples dementia patient at the wrong assisted living home in 2007, ending in him walking off and disappearing in scorching, rainy weather for five days.
Jurors agreed the family of Loren Dederick, a World War II veteran who died last year, should be awarded $700,000 for his injuries, pain, suffering, and mental anguish after he was found Sept. 26, 2007, lying in dense brush, dehydrated, covered in fire ant bites, his feet cut, delirious, and suffering from acute renal failure.
Jurors agreed his daughter and granddaughter, who represent his estate, also should be awarded $69,931.74 for the costs of nine days of hospitalization after he was found, and 11 more days three months later, after his condition declined, his wife of 60 years died and he wanted to die.
They found TLC Non-Emergency Medical Transport 90 percent negligent for the mistaken delivery of Dederick to HarborChase Naples and the nearly 2½-hour delay in returning to take him to HarborChase North Collier. Jurors found the NCH Healthcare System, which wasn't part of the trial, 10 percent at fault, so Collier Circuit Judge Cynthia Pivacek will reduce the jury award 10 percent, to $692,938.57.
"He was abandoned in that facility by a man who was not properly trained," attorney Daniel Cotter of Georgia said as he walked out of court with Dederick's daughter, Donna Ward, and her daughter, Lauren Carey. "This experience reveals to the community just how dangerous conditions can be for vulnerable people like Mr. Dederick."
Testimony showed that Dimas Herrera, 44, of East Naples, a TLC driver for three years, wasn't fluent in English, ignored two nurses who said Dederick didn't live there and didn't call his employer for help, as TLC policy requires. He was fired.
Jurors found TLC Non-Emergency Medical Transport 90 percent negligent for the mistaken delivery of Dederick to HarborChase Naples and the nearly 2½-hour delay in returning to take him to HarborChase North Collier. Jurors found the NCH Healthcare System, which wasn't part of the trial, 10 percent at fault, so Collier Circuit Judge Cynthia Pivacek will reduce the jury award 10 percent, to $692,938.57.
"We hope TLC and other transportation companies will ensure their drivers are properly trained," Cotter said.
Ward said only that she was grateful to jurors.
TLC's attorney, Bruce McLaren Stanley of Fort Myers, declined comment.
Jurors in the four-day trial were unaware NCH had settled just weeks earlier and HarborChase settled in May after arbitration. The settlement amounts are confidential.
Cotter said TLC wouldn't settle, so he called 12 witnesses, including world-renowned Alzheimer's expert, Dr. Peter H. Rabins, author of "The 36-Hour Day," and the defense called four, including a geriatric doctor. Testimony and court records showed:
Dederick was taken to NCH North Naples Hospital on Sept. 21, 2007, suffering from chest pains. When he was released, NCH gave Herrera a trip ticket with his old address, HarborChase at 7801 Airport-Pulling Road.
Dederick, who lived in a locked dementia unit at HarborChase North Collier, was confused as he was wheeled in by Herrera, who was told by a nurse in the skilled nursing unit he didn't belong there. Herrera went to the assisted living unit, where a nurse said he'd recently transferred to the North Collier site.
But Dederick supposedly told Herrera he lived on the third floor and they wandered around. Dederick saw a woman walk out of an apartment and stated it was his wife — although he said nothing to her. Herrera didn't check the door nameplate.
At 6:30 p.m., Herrera drove to a McDonald's. After confirming Dederick lived at North Collier, a HarborChase nurse called TLC and asked the driver to return. Herrera offered to return at 7 p.m., but TLC sent a driver who didn't arrive until 8:50 p.m. By then, Dederick was gone.
After a five-day search, a Collier sheriff's deputy cut through brush in a secluded area a few blocks away and found Dederick on the ground, half-naked. He was rushed to NCH, became unresponsive and doctors inserted a pacemaker.
Ward and Carey sued in November 2009.
After a state investigation found 15 address discrepancies in a review of 35 patients, NCH Healthcare System revised procedures.
Herrera didn't show up for the trial this week, so jurors heard his pre-trial sworn testimony. He maintained he understood some English, but denied being told Dederick didn't live there.
During closing arguments, Cotter blamed TLC owner Jorge F. Barreto for not training and supervising drivers to ensure they understood English and adhered to policy.
"This matter could have been sorted by a single phone call in a few minutes," he said of TLC's policy. "… It is not an appropriate defense … to point the finger at the hospital and not take responsibility."
Once Herrera was told Dederick didn't live there, Cotter said, Herrera was at fault, not NCH.
Stanley told jurors TLC takes responsibility for what occurred.
"The reason we are here is the question about the money they want," Stanley said of the $1 million or more Cotter sought. "Why should TLC be required to pay the kind of money Mr. Cotter put before you? … TLC did not set all this in motion."