A Michigan jury recently returned its verdict in the amount of $5,080,000 ($3 million of which was for conscious pain and suffering) for the death of a 90-year-old assisted living resident, who suffered from dementia, who was unsupervised when she opened the unsecured cabinet beneath the kitchen sink in the facility where she lived, found and opened a bottle of dishwashing detergent, and then swallowed the dishwashing detergent.
There were two caregivers on duty at the time of the incident but one was on break, leaving the other caregiver responsible for supervising 17 residents. The off-duty caregiver was supposed to be on break for 30 minutes but the timesheets indicated that the caregiver remained on break for 56 minutes. No supervisor was called to provide coverage while the one caregiver was on her break.
The elderly resident was found with her head leaned back and with her lips swollen. She was transported by ambulance to the hospital but the damage and injuries to her mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach were so severe that it was determined that she was not a candidate for surgery. She was unable to eat or drink while she remained in the hospital in extreme pain, where she died 13 days later.
The defense argued that the assisted living facility had taken appropriate precautions to secure caustic items in the cabinet under the sink, noting that no residents had gotten into the cabinet before. The defense further argued that locks and doors were checked on a regular basis, but the facility had no documentation to prove its assertion.
The plaintiff was able to show the jury that the assisted living facility had no written procedures for securing hazardous chemicals in the facility (the facility’s administrator alleged that there was a safety policy in place at the facility but the national risk manager for the facility conceded during trial that there was no such safety policy).
The plaintiff was able to highlight to the jury the facility employees’ inconsistent statements regarding the condition of the cabinet that the resident had opened, as well as how the incident occurred (one defense theory was that the elderly, wheelchair-confined resident who suffered from dementia somehow pried open a loose hinge on the cabinet with her fingers). The defense even suggested to the jury that some unidentified person assisted the resident in opening the cabinet door. The plaintiff countered that a childproof cap on the detergent bottle would have prevented the woman from swallowing the detergent.
The Damages Issue
The plaintiff had to overcome the typical defense argument that the life of an elderly person is worth less than the life of a younger person. The plaintiff’s lawyer told the jury that children often do not appreciate their parents until that changes when everyone gets older and the time spent with parents becomes more valuable to everyone in light of the diminishing time available to all. In this case, the elderly woman’s son visited her five to six times every week, meaning that the son lost hundreds of visits with his mother over the course of her two to three year life expectancy. The jury appreciated the son’s loss, awarding him $2 million for his loss of society and consortium claim.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) in an assisted living facility in Michigan or in another U.S. state due to neglect, negligence, or abuse, you should promptly contact a local assisted living claim lawyer in your state who may investigate your assisted living claim for you and file an assisted living claim on your behalf, if appropriate.
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