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Rehab center is last defendant in lawsuit

A woman says the center was negligent in ignoring an infection that led to the amputation of her leg.

Unless lawyers reach a settlement, a trial will begin Aug. 16 in the case of a Floral City woman who is suing Citrus Health and Rehabilitation Center.

Winifred Martin says the nursing home provided negligent care when she resided there during part of 1996. Specifically, she says that staff allowed a toe infection to spread so badly that a doctor eventually had to amputate her right leg above the knee.

The plaintiffs, Martin and her husband, James, most recently requested $28.6-million to settle the case, their attorney Michael Smith said. The last formal offer from the remaining defendants _ the companies that own and operate the nursing home _ was $1.5-million.

During a pretrial conference Wednesday morning, lawyers told Circuit Judge Barbara Gurrola they expected the trial to last one week and possibly part of a second week. Martin, who recently injured a hip and must use a wheelchair, will observe the trial from a special bed that her family and lawyer will bring to the courtroom.

Denying a defense request, Gurrola ruled that the plaintiffs still would be allowed to seek punitive damages, even though their medical expert had testified that nursing home workers' performance was not "outrageous" and did not exhibit "conscious indifference."

She also declined a defense request to dismiss parts of the lawsuit because they were based on a state statute that deals with the rights of nursing home patients _ a statute that, in the defense's opinion, is unconstitutionally vague.

The Long Term Care Foundation of Charleston, S.C., owns the home. Diversified Health Services, a division of ServiceMaster, operates the business.

Two other defendants _ Citrus Memorial Hospital, where Martin was a patient before the toe problem worsened at the nursing home, and Dr. Herbert Cohen, her Inverness primary care doctor _ reached settlements earlier this year. The hospital agreed to pay $50,000, while Cohen agreed to pay $217,500.

The Agency for Health Care Administration, despite protests from Citrus Health, ruled that the nursing home provided "poor care and treatment" to Martin.

The nursing home consistently has maintained that it provided reasonable care. In court records, the home has suggested that the fault for Martin's injury falls elsewhere, notably with Cohen, the primary care doctor.