Suit alleges St. Louis Park nursing home is negligent in choking death

2022-08-26 08:32:15 By : Mr. Danny Dang

A St. Louis Park nursing home is the subject of a lawsuit alleging the wrongful death of a resident who choked to death despite extensive notes on diet restrictions and a need to be supervised while eating.

Raymond Bigus, 62, moved to the Estates at St. Louis Park nursing home in December 2013 and died in September 2018 from what the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office ruled as asphyxia from a food mass with no contributing conditions or underlying causes. His ex-wife and two children sued the facility in January, and trial is scheduled for next week.

The law firm declined to comment on the lawsuit and upcoming trial.

St. Paul attorney Stephen Laitinen, representing the nursing home, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In court filings, the defense argues that Bigus was "noncompliant" and frequently ate fast food and candy against his ordered diet, didn't wear his dentures regularly while eating and frequently denied the staff's offer to cut up his food, according to a statement from expert nurse witness Stacy Lind, who reviewed Bigus' medical records.

The lawsuit lists numerous occasions when Bigus had difficulty eating and his food restrictions were changed, including once in 2016 when he told staff he was choking while eating lunch. In 2017, his diet included thin liquids and regular textures leading up to the removal of all his teeth that March.

Staff in July 2018 submitted data to the federal government that noted the nursing home was providing meal supervision for Bigus. But two months later, Bigus was found choking during lunch, and staff removed a piece of meat from his mouth. Emergency responders could not revive him.

The medical examiner also removed a round mass of food stuck in his throat. The lawsuit alleges that Bigus died because he was given the pork chop without supervision or meal setup by nursing home staff.

Bigus' family claims that staff had the duty to prevent such an "avoidable accident, including an avoidable death from choking on a pork chop," according to the complaint.

His children are seeking at least $50,000 in damages.

The jury will be tasked with determining whether the Estates was negligent in its care of Bigus and if that negligence directly caused his death.

Bigus was admitted to the nursing home following his discharge from an acute care hospital where he was seeking care for sepsis, schizophrenia and dementia, among other medical issues. Upon admittance to the Estates, staff immediately noted that he needed eating assistance.

Lind wrote in her opinion that nursing staff took reasonable and appropriate measures in their care of Bigus. She added that his family supported his dietary noncompliance by bringing him fast food and giving him money to use at the store inside the nursing home to buy caramel corn and candy.

She further wrote that on the day of Bigus' death, staff complied with nursing standards and provided multiple lifesaving efforts including the Heimlich maneuver, compression, CPR and suction.

"The medical records are silent as to whether Mr. Bigus' food was cut up on the day in question," Lind wrote, adding that a nurse observed a thinly sliced piece of meat in his mouth while attempting lifesaving efforts, which led her to believe the food was cut.

Lind said it was unknown whether Bigus was wearing dentures at the time of his death, while his family and attorneys with Kosieradzki Smith Law Firm in Plymouth say he was without teeth.

The Estates have been the subject of at least 10 substantiated complaints, according to Minnesota Department of Health records, including three instances of abuse and one report of sexual abuse of two residents by a staff member in 2019.

Kim Hyatt reports on Hennepin County Courts. She previously covered the western and northern metro suburbs of the Twin Cities.

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