Navy Veteran's Family Files Wrongful Death Suit Against VA

In this April 2, 2015, file photo, a visitor leaves the Sacramento Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Rancho Cordova, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
In this April 2, 2015, file photo, a visitor leaves the Sacramento Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Rancho Cordova, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

The children of a 72-year-old Navy veteran have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

Douglas Wayne Ross Sr., who served in the Vietnam War, died from a traumatic head injury a week after he fell in his hospital room, where he was left "unattended and unrestrained in his chair," alleges the complaint filed May 15 in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Attorney Niall McCarthy filed the lawsuit on behalf of Ross' children, Douglas Wayne Ross Jr., of Spokane, Washington; Nicole Ross, of Vieques, Puerto Rico; and Neville Ross, of Gloucester, Massachusetts, after the Department of Veterans Affairs denied the Rosses' administrative tort claim of medical negligence filed in July 2016.

On March 8, the agency wrote to the Rosses' attorney: "Our review concluded there was no negligent or wrongful act on the part of an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs acting within the scope of employment that caused compensable harm."

The Rosses believe their father was neglected by VA staff. Their complaint alleges that VA Hospital staff left Ross in the chair knowing that he was "at a serious risk of falls and in extremely feeble condition."

"When the VA Palo Alto propped Mr. Ross in a chair and left him, he was on multiple feeding tubes, his right foot was completely black and gangrenous from lack of circulation, and he was dependent on the VA Palo Alto's nurses and doctors for all activities of daily living and functional tasks," according to the complaint.

Ross had gone to the hospital in February 2016 for a condition that required multiple surgeries. He had a heart attack after the first surgery and doctors determined he could not undergo additional surgeries.

"VA Palo Alto doctors put Mr. Ross on the maximum amount of blood thinners to prevent another heart attack and treat his blood clots," the complaint states. "The blood thinners put Mr. Ross at risk of bleeding excessively if he suffered any fall."

On April 28, 2016, the day Ross fell, he was left alone for about 40 minutes, which McCarthy compares to "leaving an infant unattended in a bath for 40 minutes." Ross died a week later, on May 5, 2016.

VA staff did not exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person in a like position would exercise and did not protect Ross from health and safety hazards, the complaint states.

The Rosses' complaint includes an undated letter from VA Palo Alto Deputy Chief of Staff Stephen Ezeji-Okoye offering his apologies and explaining the Rosses' rights to file a claim.

"Because your father was injured as a result of a fall in his room, we'd like to offer our sincere apologies," Ezeji-Okoye wrote. "We are always very concerned about fall prevention, and we continue to look for opportunities to reduce them even further by considering procedure changes based on what happened with this fall."

Ross, an armorer in the Navy from 1960 to 1964, was assigned to the USS Hancock and stationed in the South China Sea during the Vietnam War, the complaint states. Ross owned and operated a charter sailing business in the U.S. Virgin Islands until 2007, when he retired and moved to Jamestown, California.

Ross was part of a gold miners association and hoped the surgery would "relieve the pain he was experiencing in his legs so that he could return to gold panning."

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