Accident verdict after woman falls from home’s balcony

Date: Saturday 13th December 2003

A JURY returned a verdict of accidental death on a woman who died following a 15ft fall from a balcony landing at the BUPA Croft Avenue rest home, in Penrith.

Marjorie Dobson, of Keld Head, Stainton, who was 79, died in the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, on 6th July, following the fall, which happened at 5-30am that day. A post mortem revealed the cause of death to be intra abdominal haemorrhage. She also had extensive bruising and a fractured pelvis.

The inquest, held at Penrith on Thursday, heard that Mrs. Dobson suffered from anxiety and depression and showed possible early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. She had constantly told her family that she “did not want to be a burden”. She was in the rest home for a week of respite care to give her husband a break.

Night care assistant Ruth Idle said that at about 5am she saw Mrs. Dobson walking along the top landing. She asked if she was all right, and she said she was fine, after which she watched Mrs. Dobson go back into her room on the first floor.

Miss Idle joined her colleague Elaine Powell and they were working on plans when they heard a loud thud. They went into the main hallway and saw Mrs. Dobson lying on the floor, not moving. Mrs. Powell telephoned for an ambulance and Miss Idle stayed with Mrs. Dobson who was able to grasp her hand and was talking sensibly.

Miss Idle told the inquest that Mrs. Dobson said she did not want to be a burden to her husband and was sorry. She also said she had jumped. When Miss Idle looked up she saw Mrs. Dobson’s zimmer frame at the top of the balcony with a chair next to it beside the balcony railings.

Night care assistant Elaine Powell said Mrs. Dobson had gone to bed at about 9-30pm and there had been no cause for concern. She checked on her at various times. As Mrs. Dobson had not slept well, it was not unusual to find her awake.

Mrs. Powell described hearing a “terrible thud” and seeing Mrs. Dobson lying on the floor. She spoke to her and Mrs. Dobson said she had jumped and kept repeating that she did not want to be a burden.

Initially, Mrs. Powell said Mrs. Dobson had asked how she got there and “was she on the table?”, but was very clear in everything she said after that. She had also said she moved the chair next to the table, but said she “did not plan it”.

“At the time I thought it was an accident, until Ruth pointed out the zimmer and the chair on the landing,” said Mrs. Powell.

Mrs. Dobson married William Ronald Dobson, a retired farmer, in 1944. They initially lived at Penruddock and then Troutbeck before moving to Stainton on his retirement in 1984. They had two daughters and a son.

Assistant deputy coroner Michael Robson took Mr. Dobson through his statement, made at the time of his wife’s death. In it, he said he felt his wife had “never been right” since her second hip replacement operation and had also complained about her nerves. She was taking medication for depression, but did not seem to get any better.

He was becoming run down and went to see his GP, Dr. Buckle, because Mrs. Dobson had been talking about “doing away with herself”. Dr. Buckle and social services organised respite care for Mrs. Dobson, who did not like being parted from her husband, but knew it was only for a week. He had visited his wife every afternoon.

Mr. Dobson said his wife seemed to be settled but said she was never coming back to Stainton because she would be put in a home. “I kept telling her they would not do that, but she wouldn’t listen,” he said.

DEPRESSION

Mrs. Dobson’s daughter, Mary Holliday, said her mother “went downhill” after her second hip operation and she considered herself a burden. Anti-depressants did not have any effect. She began making comments to her family that they would be better off without her.

Mrs. Holliday said she did not take the threats seriously. They thought it was a way of getting attention. From March this year, Mrs. Dobson’s depression got worse and she was not sleeping well. This was beginning to affect Mr. Dobson’s health, so she agreed to respite care.

When Mrs. Holliday went to see her mother in hospital following the fall, she said she was sorry but did not want to be a burden. “I decided she had tried to do something about it,” said Mrs. Holliday and added that she did not know if it was a case of attention seeking gone wrong.

The coroner gave the jury the option of three verdicts suicide, for which there had to be evidence that Mrs. Dobson intended the consequences of her act; accidental death, which was death from an unnatural event not intended to cause death; or an open verdict, which is reached when the evidence does not fully disclose the means whereby death arose and where the evidence does not support any other verdict.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.