Connecticut Institute for the Blind Ordered to Pay $13.4 Million for Patient’s Death

After losing a wrongful death claim at trial, a Connecticut healthcare facility now owes the patient’s estate nearly $13.4 million after the court added the accrued post-judgment interest to the verdict. The judgment was entered after the court found that the defendant failed to follow the time requirements for filing a motion to set aside the verdict.

BiPAP machine on bedside table

ByAnjelica Cappellino, J.D.

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Published on May 14, 2024

BiPAP machine on bedside table

What Happened?

At the time of his death at age 50, Steven Case was a resident of the Connecticut Institute for the Blind, operating under the business name, Oak Hill. Case developed mental and physical disabilities after having a brain tumor removed at four years old. After a doctor suggested swimming, Case dedicated himself to the sport with the support of his family. In 1995, he won the gold and silver medals in swimming in the Special Olympics World Games. He lived at home with his family until his 30s. But when his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, his family made the decision to place Case in a residential treatment facility.

For the eight months prior to his death and while a resident at Oak Hill, Case wore a BiPAP respiratory breathing machine for moderate obstructive sleep apnea. He also experienced seizures. Because he was more prone to seizures at night, the Oak Hill staff was required to check on Case every thirty minutes to ensure that he was breathing and that his BiPAP machine fit securely.

Lincare, the company that provided and maintained the BiPAP machine, received a message that it was not functioning properly. On May 19, 2016, a technician advised that the machine would need to be replaced in the next week. However, the machine was never replaced.

On the morning of May 23, 2016, an Oak Hill employee found Case unresponsive and he subsequently passed away. 

The Lawsuit

In April 2018, the Case estate, represented by its administrator, Kathleen Case, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Oak Hill and Lincare, Case v. The Connecticut Institute For The Blind dba Oak Hill et al., case number UWY-CV18-6040435-S, in Connecticut Superior Court. Represented by John W. Mills and Maria A. Cahill of Mills & Cahill LLC, the complaint alleged that Oak Hill’s employees failed to properly check on Case and ensure that his breathing machine was functioning between 11 p.m. on May 22nd through 4:00 a.m. on May 23rd. The employee who found Case unresponsive, and according to the complaint, was poorly trained and failed to immediately call an ambulance or administer CPR. The employee sought the assistance of another employee, who did not call for help until 21 minutes later. CPR was not performed until the ambulance arrived at 4:29 a.m. Case was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at 4:38 a.m. “It was clear he hadn’t been checked on,” Mills asserted in a statement.

The complaint also filed a wrongful death claim against Lincare.

The Verdict

According to the plaintiff’s counsel, the defense attorneys did not offer to settle during the case, despite two separate judicial mediations. The case proceeded to trial in 2024, with Oak Hill represented by David G. Hill of David G. Hill & Associates, LLC.

After a three-day deliberation, on March 20, 2024, the six-person jury found that Oak Hill acted negligently which caused Case’s death. The jury awarded the estate $10 million in damages – $4 million on the negligence claims and $6 million in punitive damages for willful or reckless deprivation of patient rights. The jury determined that the Oak Hill staff recklessly disregarded Case’s needs. The jury also determined that Lincare acted negligently but that the company’s negligence was not a cause of death, so it was not held liable for any damages.

Post-Trial

The estate subsequently filed a motion for judgment, to which Oak Hill objected, seeking a directed verdict in the defendant’s favor. According to its motion, the trial court failed to rule on the defendant’s prior motion for a directed verdict during an earlier proceeding. Per defense counsel, "plaintiff's closing argument was egregious and prejudicial, particularly because it accused the defendant of 'putting profits over people, and it did so even though the plaintiff knew the defendant was a nonprofit organization." Defense counsel also objected to the willful misconduct claim, arguing that it was beyond the statute of limitations and that Oak Hill is not liable for the intentional or willful conduct of its staff.

The trial court rejected Oak Hill’s arguments, including the allegation that the court failed to consider the defendant’s previous motion. Although Oak Hill moved for a directed verdict, it failed to file a written motion within the 10-day period required by Section 16-35 of the Connecticut Practice Book. Per the court’s holding, "On the present record, and in light of the court's denial of the defendant's motion for permission to file [a] late motion and renewed motion for directed verdict ... the plaintiff is entitled to the entry of judgment on the jury's verdict in the amount of $10,000,000.” However, the court added $3,364,383 to the verdict, based on a 8% statutory interest rate spanning 1,535 days – from the date that the estate’s on-the-record offer for compromise was rejected by defense counsel. The judge also calculated 10% in post-judgment interest under Connecticut General Statutes Section 37-3a.

As a result, the estate of Steven Case is now due over $13 million in damages.

About the author

Anjelica Cappellino, J.D.

Anjelica Cappellino, J.D.

Anjelica Cappellino, Esq., a New York Law School alumna and psychology graduate from St. John’s University, is an accomplished attorney at Meringolo & Associates, P.C. She specializes in federal criminal defense and civil litigation, with significant experience in high-profile cases across New York’s Southern and Eastern Districts. Her notable work includes involvement in complex cases such as United States v. Joseph Merlino, related to racketeering, and U.S. v. Jimmy Cournoyer, concerning drug trafficking and criminal enterprise.

Ms. Cappellino has effectively represented clients in sentencing preparations, often achieving reduced sentences. She has also actively participated in federal civil litigation, showcasing her diverse legal skill set. Her co-authored article in the Albany Law Review on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines underscores her deep understanding of federal sentencing and its legal nuances. Cappellino's expertise in both trial and litigation marks her as a proficient attorney in federal criminal and civil law.

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