A California jury has returned a $5 million verdict against an assisted living community where a resident with dementia eloped and subsequently died.
The panel’s Jan. 18 decision calls for Timber Ridge at McKinleyville and Western Living Concepts Inc. to pay $2.1 million for wrongful death, $2.5 million in punitive damages and $400,000 for elder abuse, according to the law firm of Janssen Malloy LLP, which represented the daughters of the resident, Marjorie Fitzpatrick, in the case.
A representative of the residential care facility for the elderly, located in the northern part of the state, told McKnight’s Senior Living that the incident is an anomaly and that the community has taken steps to ensure that mistakes made in this case are not repeated.
Fitzpatrick, according to the law firm, was a 90-year-old resident of the memory care unit at Timber Ridge in September 2013 when she exited the building through a door that was thought to be locked door and entered a courtyard. While outside, she fell and broke bones in her face as well as her wrist and also sustained brain injuries, the law firm said. Fitzpatrick reportedly was outside in the courtyard for 45 minutes before she was found, and she later died of her injuries.
Fitzpatrick’s daughters contended that staff members of the 108-bed community were not well-trained and capable of caring for someone with the level of dementia that Fitzpatrick had, that staff members did not provide Fitzpatrick with anti-anxiety medication that would have prevented her wandering behavior, and that Timber Ridge destroyed a video and other evidence related to Fitzpatrick’s fall in an effort to cover up the incident.
“The death of any resident, for any reason, saddens us deeply. In this case, we acknowledge that mistakes were made, however inadvertently, and we will always regret that,” Erin Wohlfeil, Timber Ridge’s director of marketing and creative development, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We have learned from these mistakes and taken steps to prevent their recurrence.”
Timber Ridge has “never had any other incident of this severity in our 17-year-history,” Wohlfeil added, “and most Humboldt County residents know of our stellar reputation for compassionate and highly competent care.”
Attorney W. Timothy Needham of Janssen Malloy, who represented Fitzpatrick’s family with attorney Michael Thamer, said: “Hopefully, this verdict will send a message to Timber Ridge and other assisted living facilities that they need to comply with the safety regulations they are mandated by the state to follow and can’t try to hide how residents are injured at their facilities from their families and the state.”