Meet Ms. Bristow
On July 6, 2015, Ms. Wendy Bristow* died at age 74 at Westbrook Healthcare, Inc. in Waurika, OK. She had been a resident there for about a year, when her husband at the time sent her there after she was scammed out of a large sum of money. Also, she suffered from mental illness, suicidal tendencies, and a condition similar to Parkinson’s called tardive dyskinesia. She was also medicine non-compliant.
During her time at Westbrook, she suffered eight falls. After one of them, she broke her shoulder. In the beginning, she was able to walk around and help out. As time went on, though, overmedication worsened her symptoms and decreased her mobility and general quality of life. She was also dehydrated and malnourished.
While she didn’t have any family in the state, her daughter and grandson were on their way to visit her from Utah on that day in July. They were planning on moving her to a different facility. They were four hours away when she died. Perhaps the most tragic thing about Ms. Bristow’s death is that it was completely preventable.
A Tragic “Accident”
That evening, Ms. Bristow sat down to eat her dinner at an assist table in the dining room. This meant she was monitored by a nurse’s aid. Depending on whose account you believe, she started choking at either 5:02 or 5:15 p.m..
The nurse’s aid tried to do heimlich on her. When that didn’t work, she went to get the nurse, who was also in the dining room. The nurse saw Ms. Bristow turning blue. Her response was to attempt back thrusts, which was against the facility’s policies and procedure. Then she tried the heimlich again.
When that still didn’t work, the nurse went to get the Director of Nursing. By this time, it was 5:25 p.m.. The director and the nurse stood up Ms. Bristow and tried heimlich again. She collapsed to the floor, unconscious.
The director then ordered that she be put in her wheelchair and taken out into the hallway. There, they laid her on the ground. At 5:35 p.m., they called 9-1-1. The nurse later testified under oath that Ms. Bristow had choked to death on “a rock hard quesadilla.”
It was about 20-30 minutes from the time Ms. Bristow started choking to the time someone called 9-1-1. If they had made that emergency call right away, she could still be alive. It’s important to understand that this wasn’t an isolated event. Ms. Bristow had been suffering from neglect at Westbrook for a year. This incident, her final incident, is what brought on legal action.
“How You Die Matters”
Ms. Bristow’s grandson, Dakota* Holland, filed a lawsuit against Westbrook Healthcare Inc. and Elmbrook Management Co. Inc.. The lawsuit was for negligence breaching the duty of care. Three weeks before the trial was initially scheduled, Attorney Kenneth E. Adair, a former judge, was asked if he would like to take the case.
He reviewed the details and decided that he absolutely wanted to help. He ended up having an extra week to prepare for trial. While he did, he formed what he called the theme of the case, which was that “how you die matters.”
It’s not unusual for people to die in nursing homes. However, when they do, you expect it to be from a heart attack or a stroke. If they’re lucky, they die peacefully in their sleep. Ms. Bristow’s death was anything but peaceful.
Once the trial started on September 13, 2021, Mr. Adair called a forensic pathologist/medical examiner to testify to the severe traumatic pain and suffering Ms. Bristow likely endured during her death. The man talked about oxygen hunger and the sense of panic that one feels with that type of asphyxiation. He compared it to the torture tactic of waterboarding.
The jury was tasked with putting a value on Ms. Bristow’s pain and suffering. While the defense tried to diminish the value of Ms. Bristow’s life and the pain and suffering she endured, Mr. Adair made it clear that her life was valuable despite her age and ailments. He made it his goal to win a substantial settlement for her family.
“Money for Things that Money Can’t Fix”
When it came time for Mr. Adair to ask the jury for a settlement amount, he based his request on a painting by Mark Rothko called White Center. Rothko painted the piece in 1950. It sold in 2007 for nearly $73 million, becoming the most expensive post-war work of act sold at auction until 2014.
Mr. Adair believed the painting was ridiculously overvalued by New Yorkers with “more money than sense.” He showed a picture of the painting to the jury and told them that it had sold for $73 million.
He said he was only going to ask them for 10% of that amount, which would be $7.3 million. He figured he wouldn’t get that much, but he decided to aim high and be symbolic.
His intent was to show the dichotomy between the value of art and the value of human life. You can’t put a price on a life. If you could, though, wouldn’t it be worth more than any man-made object? Mr. Adair refers to settlements in these types of cases as “money for things that money can’t fix.”
$7.3 million wouldn’t have been able to bring back Ms. Bristow. $1 million certainly wouldn’t be able to, either. It’s the principal of the matter, though. Westbrook and Elmbrook were guilty of negligence that resulted in someone’s death. For justice to be served, they would have to pay for that. In this case, literally.
The defense denied that Ms. Bristow had Parkinson’s and tardive dyskinesia, despite solid evidence that she did. The nurse also tried to redact her previous statement about the “rock hard quesadilla,” saying it was a joke and she was being sarcastic.
These people ruined Ms. Bristow’s life, ended it, and then mocked it. Luckily, the jury saw through their charade and justice was served. That is how Mr. Adair ended up winning a $1 million settlement.
While this victory didn’t bring Ms. Bristow back, it helped show the value of her life and the lives of everyone in nursing homes everywhere. Unfortunately, cases like Ms. Bristow’s aren’t very rare. It’s not uncommon for abuse and neglect in nursing homes to result in injury and even death.
This case has given Mr. Adair and everyone at Wirth Law Office a renewed passion to seek out justice at all costs for all people.
Free Consultation with a Tulsa Personal Injury Attorney
If you or someone you love is suffering from abuse or neglect in a nursing home, the attorneys at Wirth Law Office – Tulsa can fight for you. For a free consultation, call (918) 879-1681 or fill out the form at the top of the page.
*name changed for privacy reasons