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Estate of Githens v. Bon Secours – Maria Manor Nursing Care Ctr., Inc., 928 So. 2d 1272 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2006)

Plaintiff, the estate of a 92 year old resident sued for neglect. The resident was wheelchair bound and had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis. When she began showing signs of abnormality, she was examined and X-rays revealed a non-displaced spiral fracture of the distal tibia in her right leg. She was hospitalized and died a month later. The nursing home moved for summary judgment, alleging that the Plaintiff improperly relied on a stacking of inferences. The nursing home contended that the basic inference was that the fracture occurred from improper handling of the resident and that she could have moved in a way that caused the fracture. The estate responded, pointing to evidence that the resident was totally dependent for ambulation, turning and repositioning. It argued there was no evidence supporting the nursing home’s theory that the resident injured herself and there was no reasonable explanation for the injury other than through negligence of the staff. In granting the nursing home’s motion, the trial court stated that the Estate’s case “impermissibly relies on the stacking or pyramiding of inferences.” The court of appeals reversed. Citing Nielsen v. City of Sarasota, 117 So.2d 731, 733 (Fla. 1960), the court noted that “if a party to a civil action depends upon the inferences to be drawn from circumstantial evidence as proof of one fact, it cannot construct a further inference upon the initial inference in order to establish a further fact unless it can be found that the original, basic inference was established to the exclusion of all other reasonable inferences.” In the case at bar, depositions of the nursing home staff indicated that the resident was totally or almost totally dependent on the staff for ambulation and movement, and staff were not aware of anyone else who moved her. Thus, the nursing home did not negate the original inference and failed to suggest competing inferences are reasonable inferences.

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