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Fighting for residents’ rights

Jeff Pitman found his calling in 2001.

That’s when he handled his first nursing home case and decided to concentrate his practice on serving residents who’ve been injured at the hands of health care providers.

“I wanted to help people who didn’t have the voice to speak for themselves,” he said.

Since then, the Milwaukee lawyer has helped hundreds of residents and their families recover.

On Jan. 6, Pitman helped a 94-year-old client land $1.5 million from a Washington County jury for the client’s daughter’s wrongful death in Anderson v. County View Group Homes.

The client’s daughter, 56, lived in a community-based residential facility. She’d been prescribed a diet of only pureed foods. She wound up choking to death on food that was not chopped to the proper consistency.

Pitman argued the facility was understaffed on the day of the accident. The jury agreed. He said it’s the largest reported verdict against a long-term care facility in Wisconsin.

He also has settled several cases favorably, but confidentially.

Notable among them was Pitman’s representation of the family of a quadriplegic resident who was placed on a defectively-designed “pressure-release” mattress. Making matters worse, no one on staff knew how to use it properly. The mattress overheated, causing the victim to suffer a stroke. She survived for about a month before the family terminated life support. They received a $1.1 million settlement in July 2010.

In addition to his advocacy for individuals, Pitman is an outspoken advocate for all residents’ rights, having testified before state lawmakers when pending legislation would negatively affect residents of health care facilities. He also has testified on behalf of the rights of all injured Wisconsin citizens through his advocacy for the Wisconsin Association for Justice. He serves as WAJ’s president-elect.

Pitman’s law partner, M. Angela Dentice, had high praise for her colleague.

“Jeff has the unusual combination of intelligence, passion for his nursing home clients and causes and the ability to connect with people from all walks of life,” she said. “That’s what makes him such a successful trial lawyer.”

Pitman has secured successful results in most of his cases, but they often require a tough fight, he said. At the policy level, he said, it’s currently a very hostile climate for nursing home residents. His work can be frustrating and heartbreaking, he said, but the tragedies “embolden” him.

“And if I don’t do this work,” Pitman said, “who’s going to do it?”


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