Woman injured at O.C. nursing home gets $3.1 million

August 19th, 2010, Orange County Register

An Orange County jury awarded $3.1 million today to a woman who suffered a brain-damaging morphine overdose at St. Edna skilled nursing home in Santa Ana.

The unanimous jury also awarded punitive damages — which will be set on Tuesday — for victim Barbara Lefforge, who was barely at the nursing  home 5 1/2 hours when the overdose occurred.

“I feel this is a just result and fair based upon the conduct that St. Edna’s staff engaged in,” said attorney Ted Wacker, representing Lefforge, 57, of Long Beach.

 St. Edna Subacute & Rehabilitation Center is one of 25 homes in California owned by Covenant Care.

Covenant Care facilities are among hundreds of California skilled nursing centers that received $880 million in additional compensation from the state since 2004 to increase staffing and wages at homes that serve Medi-Cal patients. An analysis by the non-profit newsroom California Watch found 232 of those homes statewide slashed staff and let nursing ratios fall below the state minimum.

St. Edna and 12 other homes in the Aliso Viejo-based Covenant Care chain stood out: they accepted $15 million  in additional compensation from the state — but still cut caregivers.

Lefforge went to St. Edna on Sept. 17, 2007, to recuperate from tendon repair surgery by podiatrist and family friend Wesley Kobayashi, according to court records. Kobayashi mistakenly recommended 50 mg of morphine for pain instead of 50 mg of Demerol.

According to Lefforge’s attorney, the mistake should have been caught by personnel at St. Edna’s.  The pharmacist warned that the dosage was too high, court records say.

But nurses at the facility, unable to immediately retrieve the full dose, obtained 30 mg from an office emergency kit and gave it to Lefforge, her lawsuit said.

The woman suffered an overdose but was not monitored or taken to the hospital until the next morning, causing brain injury, her attorney alleged.

“She was barely breathing,” Wacker said.

Attorney Thomas Beach of Oxnard, representing St. Edna,  told The Register in April that the prescription was double-checked and verified with Lefforge’s doctor.

After two days of deliberation, the jury found that St. Edna was 90 percent responsible for the damages and Kobayashi was 10 percent responsible. Jurors awarded Lefforge $2 million for pain and suffering and $1.1 million in medical costs, Wacker said.

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