A McLennan County jury found that Jeffrey Place Rehabilitation Center officials were negligent in their care of a blind, diabetic Waco man and awarded the man’s family $450,000 in damages Friday.
Jurors in Waco’s 414th State District Court deliberated about 7½ hours over two days before siding with Greg H. Byrd and his wife, Kim, in their wrongful death lawsuit against the Waco nursing center and its parent company, Senior Living Properties LLC.
Byrd’s father, Homer Byrd, a 79-year-old retired tractor mechanic, died in November 2015, a month after being admitted to Jeffrey Place, 820 Jeffrey St.
Testimony from the five-day trial showed that Byrd, a diabetic on dialysis, developed an infected big toe that turned gangrenous, which led to Byrd’s right leg being amputated just above his knee and, ultimately, to his death.
The plaintiffs’ expert witness, a geriatric specialist from California, testified that Jeffrey Place staff breached the ordinary standard of care by failing to promptly spot and treat the infected toe. Nurses testified they noticed the toe, but not until the wound had turned black, had a foul odor and was 4 centimeters by 5 centimeters.
He also said there was an inordinate delay in taking Byrd to the hospital.
A defense expert testified that Jeffrey Place personnel followed the directions of the center’s medical director and did all they could for Byrd, who was seriously ill when he arrived at the center and was suffering from a variety of ailments, including heart problems and major vascular and circulatory problems.
Lee Cameron, a Dallas attorney who represented Jeffrey Place, and Heather Hicks, Jeffrey Place administrator, both declined comment after the trial.
“I am very thankful to the jury,” Greg Byrd said after the trial. “They really paid attention and they stood up for my dad. I am very thankful to my attorneys, Jack Modesett and Vic Feazell, for taking on this case and taking it to the jury. They did such a great job.”
The jury awarded the exact amounts Modesett requested during his final summations Thursday afternoon. The awards include $100,000 for pain and mental anguish suffered by Homer Byrd before his death, $75,000 for Greg Byrd’s loss of his father’s companionship and love and $75,000 for Greg Byrd’s mental anguish over his father’s death.
Modesett did not suggest a figure for exemplary or punitive damages, saying he was going to leave that figure to the jury’s discretion. The jury awarded $200,000 in exemplary damages.
Shortly before the jury returned its verdict Friday afternoon, it inquired of Judge Vicki Menard about the net worth of Senior Living Properties LLC. Because there was no evidence of that at trial, the judge could not answer the question.
Juror Brandon Crocker said after the trial that he would have awarded more money to the Byrds in punitive damages if the decision had been solely his.
“Due to the evidence we saw, it was just gross negligence,” Crocker said. “There was a lot more that could have been done for this man, and it was just absolute refusal to see a problem that is blatantly obvious.”
Feazell and Modesett said they are pleased the jury provided some justice for the Byrds.
“I think today was a victory for the people of Waco and elderly people everywhere,” Modesett said. “We had an amazing jury. They were very attentive and paid careful attention to the medical testimony. That is a testament to how fine the people were sitting on the jury.”