In April 2019, an elder abuse jury in California returned its verdict in the amount of $42.5 million against as assisted living facility for the death of a resident, awarding the woman’s family $7 million in compensatory damages and an additional $35 million in punitive damages, which represents about 10% of the nonprofit assisted living parent company’s value. The jury had awarded the compensatory damages verdict in mid-April and returned the following week to determine punitive damages, which it awarded on April 25, 2019.
The Underlying Facts
The 77-year-old woman became a resident of the defendant assisted living facility on February 24, 2012 for short-term rehabilitation. She died as a result of the routine drugging with the prescription medication Ativan without her consent, according to the California assisted living elder abuse lawsuit. The woman was suffering from dementia and had been living with her sister before her assisted living stay. She had been previously diagnosed with epilepsy and was previously prescribed Ativan, a sedative, to be given only for seizure-like activity.
On the fourth day of her stay at the defendant assisted living facility, the woman began refusing medications. Days later, the assisted living staff began giving her Ativan “for her agitation.” The staff requested that the woman’s primary care physician order routine dosing with Ativan, but the physician denied the request. Nonetheless, the staff routinely provided the woman with Ativan daily at 6:00 a.m., for 26 days, allegedly for agitation.
The woman’s sister came to the assisted living facility on March 20, 2012 to bring her to her primary care physician. At that time, the woman was limp, unable to walk, and required assistance to be placed in her sister’s vehicle. The woman was so out of it that she did not recognize her sister or her primary care physician.
Two days later, the sister returned to the assisted living facility to pack her sister’s belongings and to bring her home but before she could pack the belongings, the woman began choking while eating lunch and was taken to the emergency room.
At the hospital, the woman was diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia and was unable to swallow water. She died on April 11, 2012, two weeks after being discharged from the hospital.
The California elder abuse lawsuit alleged that the parent company of the assisted living facility was understaffed and used Ativan and similar drugs (i.e., chemical restraints) to inappropriately sedate residents to make it easier to care for them, regardless of their needs.
The State of California reportedly investigated the matter and concluded: “Primary care physician medication orders and communication were not followed.”
The CEO of the assisted living facility’s parent company stated after the verdict: “We’re very proud of our reputation over 50 years in the Sacramento area and proud of our employees and services. We do accept responsibility for our mistakes and we will need to work through this. My message to employees is we need to be open and transparent about what’s occurring, but we should all be proud of what we do. [We] will survive and continue to provide services for a long time to come in the Sacramento area.”
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of an assisted living facility in the United States, you should promptly contact a local assisted living claim lawyer in your state who may investigate your assisted living negligence claim for you and file an assisted living claim on your behalf, if appropriate.
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