After suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car crash in 1996, Earl Scherrer lapsed into a coma. He wasn’t expected to live, but his wife, Lydia, refused to disconnect his life support. After 16 months, Mr. Scherrer began to emerge from his coma. Using first-grade reading and math texts, his wife helped him to slowly learn to speak again. In April 2006, Mrs. Scherrer placed him in Liberty Manor Residency, a Phoenix assisted living facility that promised 24-hour care.
A month later, Mrs. Scherrer received a call that her husband had been vomiting. She rushed over to Liberty Manor, brought her husband home and gave him a bath. Within minutes, he began vomiting again and died in his wife’s arms. An autopsy revealed a number of foreign objects – plastic bags, catsup packets, candy wrappers and paper towels – in the man’s stomach and small intestine. The medical examiner determined that the objects Mr. Scherrer had swallowed were significant contributing factors in his death.
Mrs. Scherrer sued Liberty Manor, alleging negligence, abuse and wrongful death. After an eight-day trial, a Phoenix jury found the facility liable for the death, and awarded $7 million in compensatory and $4 million in punitive damages. The $11 million verdict – the largest assisted living verdict in Arizona history – reflects the growing number of suits alleging abuse and neglect in the fast-growing assisted living industry.
Since 1998, the number of assisted living facilities in the U.S. has grown from 28,000 to 38,000, caring for about 1 million seniors. Because they are not designated as medical care facilities, assisted living communities are not as carefully regulated as is the nursing home industry. The lack of regulation has opened the door to elder abuse and neglect. Eric Carlson, a lawyer at the National Senior Citizens Law Center in Los Angeles, observed:
There’s much more variability in assisted living because the rules are different from state to state, and the rules tend to be loose to accommodate a wide range of facilities. You’ve got facilities that are really incompetent, but the state may not even have minimum standards.
Normally there are no nurses at the facilities and there’s very little training of employees. Many times assisted living facilities are keeping residents that they don’t have the capacity to care for. Unfortunately, many families with seniors living in assisted living facilities don’t really consider the health-issues at the facilities. The Scherrer lawsuit was handled by Craig Knapp with the Arizona firm of Knapp and Roberts. He did an outstanding job in the case.
Source: Lawyers USA
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