PONTIAC — A nurse who claimed she was fired from a Dwight nursing home after she reported alleged abuse has been awarded $5.2 million by a Livingston County jury.
Katrina Wesemann was employed as a licensed practical nurse at Heritage Health in Dwight in October 2012 when she was fired by her employer, Bloomington-based Heritage Enterprises Inc., which operates 54 long-term facilities, including 53 in Illinois.
Wesemann alleged she was fired because she refused to follow orders from the facility's director of nursing "to 'drop a pill' or double-dose agitated residents with anti-anxiety medications and refused to delete or omit records of suspicious injuries on residents," according to a statement from Timothy J. Coffey, one of Wesemann's lawyers.
The verdict included past wages and benefits and $5 million in punitive damages for the nurse who worked at the facility for about 19 months. The jury deliberated about two hours before returning its verdict last week during an eight-day trial before Judge Robert Travers.
However, A. Clay Cox, corporate counsel for Heritage Enterprises, said in a written statement to The Pantagraph on Monday, "We at Heritage Enterprises Inc. are deeply disappointed in the verdict delivered in the case of Wesemann v. Heritage Manor-Dwight, LLC.
"We have disputed and continue to dispute and deny the assertions of the plaintiff in this matter," Cox's statement continued. "We fully intend to exercise all available legal remedies to contest this result. Until the legal process concludes, we will have no further comment."
Coffey said the verdict "sent a powerful message to Heritage Enterprises with the $5 million punitive damage award. Such awards are intended to punish and deter when evidence of willful and wanton misconduct is presented."
The Naperville lawyer was part of a legal team that included Loevy and Loevy and Amanda S. Yarusso, of Chicago.
The jury sided with the former worker on all three counts brought under Illinois whistleblower laws that protect employees from retaliation for reporting improper conduct at nursing homes and other regulated industries.
Wesemann's lawyers alleged that her firing was in retaliation for a call she made to the corporate hotline to report the accusations involving her supervisor.
Wesemann now works as a managing nurse for another long-term care facility, according to her lawyer.