Assisted-living facility pays $1.5 million for hiring felon

A Virginia jury has found Summerville Assisted Living facility in Woodbridge negligent for not properly caring for a former patient and awarded the patient $1.5 million.

The jury deliberated fewer than 90 minutes. Barbara Crowe, daughter of the patient, 83-year-old Margaret Noel, filed suit last year on behalf of her mother. Noel was the facility’s first patient in 1998 and was living in the facility’s Alzheimer’s wing when she fell and broke her hip in 1999. Jeffrey J. Downey, JD, Crowe’s attorney, says Summerville’s negligence was exemplified by "an utter disregard for the safety of their residents, especially their vulnerable Alzheimer’s residents who were placed in the hands of a convicted felon, who received a few hours of video training and was placed on the floor caring for some 15-20 residents."

Evidence also showed that staffing levels were not based on the needs of the residents, but on the corporate budget, which did not take into account the acuity of the residents. In his closing argument, Downey, an attorney with Robins Kaplan’s Washington, DC, office, urged the jury to "show by your verdict that elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease still have a quality of life that is worth something."

Medical experts testified throughout the four-day jury trial that Noel’s quality of life had greatly diminished because of the fall and because she was not able to seek treatment right away. Doctors testified that Noel is still unable to walk because of the fall, which fractured her hip in four places. Downey says the jury’s quick turnaround time "reflected that fact that this jury rejected outright the defendants denial of liability and believed that defendants in fact tried to cover up their serious neglect."

Downey also says the verdict reflects a complete rejection of the notion that Alzheimer’s patients can’t experience pain and suffering, a defense he says is often articulated in settlement discussions if not in court.