Lessons From Winning Cases

Two Nurses Who Spoke Up, Lost Their Jobs, and Sued

Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD

Disclosures

April 08, 2016

In This Article

Speak Up, Then Clean Out Your Locker

Roberto Landin, LPN, believed that a patient died, unnecessarily, because another nurse didn't understand brittle diabetes. Linda Boly, RN, believed that patients were being rushed into and out of ambulatory surgery to realize costs savings. Both Landin and Boly expressed their concerns to management and were fired shortly thereafter.

This is the story of two nurses from different parts of the country who discovered and reported patient safety problems at their hospitals and lost their jobs as a result of their patient advocacy efforts. Previously, each nurse had good to excellent performance evaluations. Both nurses decided to sue their former employers for termination in violation of public policy. Both won jury verdicts in their favor and damages for lost wages. It wasn't quick; it wasn't easy. But they won. We will discuss why they won, the process they followed, and what nurses in similar positions need to know. These stories also hold lessons for hospital administrators and nurse managers.

Reporting Another Nurse

Landin was a decorated veteran with 25 years of experience and solid evaluations for every year his records were produced by his employer. On February 25, 2006, he came to work at the rehabilitation facility in Saginaw, Michigan, where he had been for 5 years, and found that a patient had died during the night. Landin was very familiar with the patient, because he had been involved in the man's care for 18 months, and they had spoken many times of their respective experiences in military service. Another LPN had been assigned to this patient during the previous night. That nurse told Landin that the patient had fallen, hit his head, and died.

Landin knew that the other LPN had been barred, for various failures to provide care, from the more acute units of the facility. So, he looked into the circumstances of the man's death. He found that the patient had no outward bumps or bruises on his head—nothing indicative of a fall—and that he had received a larger-than-usual insulin dose at 9:00 PM. The patient usually received seven units, and that night he received 15 units.

The patient was found on the floor at 1:30 AM in a pool of vomit and diarrhea. There was no record of the nurse checking on the patient between 9:15 PM and 1:30 AM. There was no record of a blood glucose check after 9:00 PM or of evaluation by a physician or the physician assistant on call. No fall protocol was initiated. No neurologic examination was conducted. The patient died later that morning.

Landin wrote an internal memo, called a "variance and concern report," to his supervisor, saying:

I am concerned that [the patient] died due to the neglect of Nurse Johnson. The resident was exhibiting signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia at 1:30 in the morning. Why wasn't his blood sugar checked? Again the above-noted nurse documented "will continue to monitor" so why didn't she look into the resident sooner than 4 hours and 15 minutes later? I believe [patient] received a larger dose of insulin than he needed [he was very unstable] he was not properly or safely followed up [his sugar was not monitored post-injection]. That I believe his death could have been avoided and that his fall out of bed at 1:30 am was symptomatic of his physical reaction to the drop of his blood sugar. I believe the above named nurse is dangerous.

This was the first time he had filed such a complaint about another nurse. Within a week, Landin was cited for two technical infractions. Within 6 weeks there was a third, and he was terminated. The facility reported him, but not the other nurse, to the Board of Nursing. The other nurse continued to work at the facility.

Landin found an attorney with experience in retaliation cases. "Retaliation" refers to a situation in which an employer fired an employee because the employee reported either the employer's unlawful act or the employer's violation of public policy. The attorney, Mandel I. Allweil of Saginaw, Michigan, told Landin that he had to clear the Board of Nursing issue before a suit could be filed. Landin did that, and, in 2008, he sued his former employer for wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

In July 2012, a jury awarded Landin more than $1.2 million in damages for lost wages. The employer appealed. Several years later, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the jury's verdict. The employer appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, and in November 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court refused to take the case, thereby affirming the Court of Appeals' ruling. Landin received his money, 10 years after being fired. By that time Landin had become disillusioned about nursing and was working in home renovation. An interview with Landin, conducted before the Supreme Court's decision, is available online For more details on this case, see the appellate briefs

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