Legal battles involving the late University of South Carolina football coach Jim Carlen are now in double overtime.
First, after Carlen’s death in July 2012 at a Columbia area nursing home, the family broke into two factions as they fought over the $10 million-plus estate he left behind.
That dispute was settled quietly earlier this year.
Now, the same two family factions who were divided over Carlen’s estate have joined forces and are suing the nursing home where he died, a hospice provider that contracted with the home, and a doctor who provided care for Carlen before and during his stay there.
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The allegation, according to legal papers filed in the Richland County courthouse, is that at the Rice Estate nursing home, a healthy, 79-year-old Carlen was taken off his usual daily medications and put on a regime of painkillers and sedatives – a regime that allegedly resulted in his death five days later.
“Doctors shouldn’t play God,” said Eric Bland, a Carlen family lawyer in Columbia who said his clients have no idea why Jim Carlen was taken off his normal medications.
At the time, Carlen did have Alzheimer’s, Bland said, but the dementia was such that he still relished life, was ambulatory with the help of a walker and enjoyed interacting with his family, which included his 12 grandchildren.
His wife and largely full-time caregiver, Meredith Carlen, put him in the nursing home so she could have a “respite” in dealing with him, he said.
“He was 6-1, weight 230 pounds – she needed a break and this was the first time he was in a facility,” Bland said. “Mrs. Carlen had no intention this would take place.”
Lawyers representing the defendants in the legal action say they did nothing wrong.
Gerald Chambers, a Columbia lawyer representing Rice Estate, which is owned by the Lutheran Homes of South Carolina, said: “As a community, we continue to express our support and sympathy for the Carlen family regarding the passing of Coach Carlen. While we cannot discuss details of the lawsuit, we are confident that all appropriate actions were taken.”
Sam Outten, a Greenville lawyer with the Columbia firm of Nelson Mullins, represents Tidewater Hospice, another defendant.
Outten released this statement: “Tidewater will not respond to the allegations in this case other than to say we will vigorously defend the allegations against us. We are proud of the care we provide to our patients, including the care we provided to Coach Carlen. We extend our sympathy to the Carlen family and are sorry for their loss.”
Efforts to reach attorney Hutson Davis of Bluffton, who represents defendant Dr. Stanley W. McCloy Jr., as well as efforts to reach McCloy were unsuccessful.
According to the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations, McCloy is a medical doctor “in good standing” who works at Beaufort’s Senior Health Associates, which specializes in medical elder care. However, a Senior Health Associates employee at that facility, when reached by telephone Friday, said, “Dr. McCloy is no longer employed by us. I don’t know how to reach him.”
Before filing what is called a Notice of Intent to Sue in a state medical malpractice action, lawyers have to have the patient’s medical records and allegations vetted by a medical professional. That’s to lessen the chances of a frivolous claim being filed.
In the current case, the Carlen family’s allegations were accompanied by a sworn affidavit by a court-qualified medical expert witness, Dr. Terrance Baker, who reviewed Carlen’s records and found the nursing home and attending doctor negligent.
“These violations of the standard of care and the negligent treatment ... resulted in injuries and the death of James Carlen,” Baker’s affidavit said. Baker’s affidavit said he an expert in geriatric medicine and nursing home care.
According to the legal papers, someone at the nursing home made the decision “to terminate all prior drug treatment which Coach Carlen was receiving to control his diabetes and blood pressure,” the lawsuit says.
“In lieu of his medications, orders were given to provide Coach Carlen with a combination of Klonopin, presumably to control his agitation, and Morphine, presumably to sedate Coach Carlen and control any pain that he may experience,” the lawsuit says.
Klonopin is a muscle relaxant and sedative, and Morphine is a powerful painkiller.
“The ‘new’ medications were not prescribed on an as-needed basis, but rather they were ordered to be given at timed intervals,” the lawsuit alleges.
“At the time the ‘new’ drug treatment was ordered, the defendants knew that the inevitable outcome of the decisions they had made would be the death of Coach Carlen.” the lawsuit claims.
“Coach Carlen’s children were not notified of his admission to Rice Home at the time of admission. By the time they came to visit their father, his medications had been ceased, his new drug regimen had been implemented and Coach Carlen was no longer able to converse and appeared outwardly as if death was imminent,” the lawsuit said.
The Klonopin and Morphine were started on July 17, 2012, according to the lawsuit.
“Death did not take long. Coach Carlen died on July 22, 2012,” the lawsuit says.
Bland said, “There’s no question we believe the coach’s death was hastened – for no legitimate medical purpose. If you put a strong athlete like Lance Armstrong on those two drugs, he would be dead in a short period of time. There was no medical reason to do this.”
One of USC’s winningest football coaches ever, Carlen recruited Heisman Trophy running back George Rogers and compiled a 45-36-1 record. USC was his last coaching job.
After football, Carlen pursued business interests in real estate, banking, franchise operation and investing, and “amassed assets worth in excess of $10 million,” according to legal records.
Bland said the medical issues involving Carlen were discovered as lawyers were going through his nursing home medical records during the period when the two factions of the family were in a dispute about the late coach’s estate.