Autistic Burn Victim Awarded $12 Million Settlement

A 47-year-old man with multiple disabilities has been awarded one of the largest settlements in the state.  A jury awarded $12 million for irreversible injuries caused by the victim being placed in a bath of scalding hot water by a health care worker.

At the time of the injury in January 2009, James, 43-years-old at the time, had been under family guardianship.

“Before this happened, James had been living in his own house my sister and I purchased for him,” his sister Kelly of Hebron explained.

The victim required 24-hour care due to his autism, cerebral palsy and seizure disorder, but was able to move around and could express himself with those who knew him well through gestures and body language.

In November 2008, Spectrum Community Services of Indiana LLC, of Crown Point, took over his care. He was moved from Crown Point to an apartment a few minutes away from his sister’s Hebron home.

“I trusted this was the agency that was going to provide the best care for my brother,” she said.

On January 19, 2009, within two months of taking over his care, a new Spectrum worker who had no medical training, placed the victim in a tub of scalding hot water, causing him to suffer second and third-degree burns, as well as a variety of complications resulting in even further brain damage.

It is alleged that the victim was unable to speak or scream out for help, and thrashed about in the tub, struggling to get out of the scalding tub.  His health care worker, believing he was having a seizure, held him down in the water.

Hearing the commotion, another health care worker rescued the victim. According to the lawsuit, the crying victim collapsed into the health care worker’s arms. The woman later reported that she would never forget the fear and terror in the victim’s eyes.

Once removed from the tub, his skin began to blister and peel away. He was taken to University of Chicago Hospital Burn Unit via helicopter, suffering from second and third degree burns on his feet, legs, buttocks and back.  Due to the severity of the burns, he suffered respiratory failure, pulmonary edema and sepsis.  Eventually, his seizures increased, requiring the need for a feeding tube and ventilator.

The victim’s sister, Kelly, said that her goal in going public with the settlement is to send a message.

“I would like to send a message that the agencies will be accountable,” said Kelly, who urged families in similar situations to keep family members at home where home health care workers can be supervised.

The lawsuit blamed the victim’s burns and brain damage on Spectrum Community Services because they failed to follow safety rules and hired an employee who was not qualified or competent.  The victim had severe disabilities requiring 24-hour supervision.

Before he resided at Spectrum, he suffered several other injuries while he was under earlier care at three different health care agencies.

The private care his family will be providing with the help of the settlement is estimated to be about $210,000 per year, Kelly stated.

Although the victim is aware of his family’s presence, most of his communicating ability is gone, his sister said.

“Our hope is to build him a house, handicapped-accessible for his needs, and provide him with private care we have control of,” she said.

Kelly said that the family was simply given a list of the state’s licensed agencies.

“There are HIPPA laws and other things that protect the agencies, no input as to which agencies might be a better choice, and there are no report cards,” she said.

If you can believe this, all that is required for employment as a health care provider at these places is a high school diploma and to attend a training program at the agency.

The victim presently lives in a Chicago nursing home where he is confined to a chair close to the nursing station.

Prior to this incident, he was able to enjoy his apartment and his family. He got out into the community and watched certain TV shows. This tragedy destroyed what little he had.

The award will be placed into a restrictive trust for the victim.

Although the agency could not be reached for comment, the Spectrum worker was fired.

It is difficult to understand why a health care worker would not test the temperature of the bath before a patient who is unable to communicate enters the tub. Perhaps this incident could have been avoided?   Feel free to comment on this blog post.

For further information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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