Who’s the Criminal?

black Image of scales on white background with the words, "calibrate the scales" overlaid. As with any set of scales, the scales of justice must, from time to time, be recalibrated. Total balance is never achieved, but all in the criminal justice and legal systems must strive for it as much as possible.

I recently read an article from May 2013 regarding Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Faulkner County Arkansas whereby a patient, Mrs Martha Bull was literally left to die a painful, agonizing death.


Her death appeared to have occurred largely because of a breakdown in communication coupled with a clear lack of normal human concern and compassion. In the article, which you can read here, a jury awarded Mrs. Bull’s estate with $5.2 million in pain and suffering. Of course, as can be expected, the attorney’s for the parent company, Central Arkansas Nursing Centers, will certainly appeal the verdict. This is a normal course of business and without a doubt, the judgement will be reduced. But this case raises numerous questions related to justice which cannot be ignored.

Is $5.2 Million Justified?

Responding to a similar article in the Log Cabin Democrat, at least one person commenting believed that the verdict was unjustified. In comments made by one rustyshackleford 05/18/13 – 12:36 pm, the verdict was not right on the basis of another verdict rendered in favor of a police officer killed in the line of duty. In that instance, the officer’s family only received $225,000 and this caused the commenter to state that something seemed “backward” to him. Fair enough.

To be sure, it is a sad state when a police officer can be killed in the line of duty and his family is left unable to care for themselves. The same situation exists with members of our armed forces. But, as a former soldier, I will balance this with the fact that we all know the risks and sign our contracts anyway because frankly, no one becomes a police officer or soldier for the money. Still, it is a sad state when we cannot take better care of our fallen who are doing us a high honor by their service. So let us now join the two worlds for sake of argument only.

However, the situation involving Greenbrier Nursing and Rehab Center and Mrs Martha Bull is in no way related. This is an entire case altogether. Think of it like this. If a police officer were to come across an elderly person laying in the street, crying out in pain, what do you suppose that officer would do. Would he send a fax and drive away? Would he ignore the cries? Would he do nothing while the person lay in the street and died? I cannot imagine anyone in law enforcement being so callous, yet that is exactly what NURSES at Greenbrier did!

If a police officer did this, the public would be clamoring for his head. He would be put on immediate suspension pending an investigation. The officer would likely be severely reprimanded, suspended, or even fired. Some would even call him a criminal. But because this happened in a nursing home, the nursing staff gets a pass. Because Mrs. Bull was elderly, the Greenbrier management somehow is viewed as merely incompetent.

What WOULD be Justified in Cases Such as Greenbrier Nursing Home?

Personally, I would like to see a return to the days of “eye for an eye.” In the principles stated in the Old Testament, if someone caused death because of negligence, they would be liable to death. I believe that one of the problems we have in our society and our criminal justice system today is that we have decided to place a price on human life. According to the initial article cited,

New legislation from the 2013 legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, will make it impossible to sue a nursing home except for medical reasons, not for multiple causes of action.

In other words, Senator Dismang managed to get legislation passed so that incompetence is protected under the law. We can be assured that had this been HIS mother, he would have felt differently. Of course, such bills are commonplace today. When former President George W. Bush was Governor of Texas, he pushed bills to limit damages people could receive in wrongful death suits and as President worked to do the same on a Federal level–effectively placing a value on human life. Of course, no one would deign to state that a value can be literally placed on life, but that is the effect of such legislation. More than this, such legislation goes further.

By placing a value, we create a situation whereby businesses can better control costs. In other words, a business can look at their product or service, decide whether the cost of a loss (death) is higher or lower than the cost of preventing the loss (death) and if it is better for the bottom line that some people die, then business goes on as usual. I can guarantee that if the cost of a loss included the possibility that the head of the company would be taken into the town square and stoned to death, there would be far fewer “accidents, ” negligence, and wrongful deaths.

Who IS the Criminal in This Case?

Many would view what happened to Mrs Bull at the Greenbrier Nursing Home to be criminal. Call me old school, but society does tend to cycle. Not too long ago in this country, someone would have been charged as a killer and possibly executed themselves. Eye for an eye will return one day and woe to the Corporate honchos who ignore the lives of those around them. So, considering the options…$5.2 million versus death, I would say the company is getting off light. I’d like your thoughts on this issue.

  • Who is the criminal?
  • Is the company which causes such pain and suffering criminal?
  • Should the law be changed to permit for non-monetary damages such as in lieu of money, the family gets to choose which Board member to stone to death?
  • How about the Nursing manager who, with a simple phone call to the incoming nurse could have prevented Mrs Bull’s suffering?
  • Should that nurse be stoned at the city gate?
  • OK, stoning is excessive. Is lethal injection acceptable?
  • Finally, do you think that such laws would reduce wrongful deaths or negligence?

NOTE: I have decided from time to time to highlight certain issues in the nation which were at one time viewed as Criminal but today are not along with others which today are criminal though just a few years ago were not. We tend to forget that the nature of what is criminal changes with society. In this blog category, we will examine these changes and seek your enlightenment. To comment on this issue, head to the forum.

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