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A wrongful death lawsuit against a Wilmington, NC, assisted living community over the alleged beating death of one resident by another has been settled out of court, according to a media report.

Spring Arbor of Wilmington had argued broad immunity against the lawsuit, which sought more than $100,000, under a $1.6 billion pandemic relief package passed into law by state legislators early during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April 2021, Garland Garrett’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Glen Allen, VA-based HHHunt Property Management, parent company of Spring Arbor of Wilmington, and former Spring Arbor Executive Director Angela Crowson after Garrett died following a Sept. 6, 2020, beating that occurred while he was sleeping. Garrett allegedly was attacked by fellow resident Thomas Gunter, with whom Garrett shared an adjoining bathroom. 

Garrett, 80, former North Carolina secretary of transportation, lived with advanced dementia and had several injuries, including spine and nose fractures, after the attack, according to the lawsuit. He was transferred from the hospital to hospice care, where he died six days after the event.

Garrett’s family alleged that the assisted living and memory care community did not protect him from Gunter, who also lived with dementia, aphasia and depression and reportedly had a history of violent behavior. The lawsuit also alleged that the community violated state regulations by not discharging a person whose needs it could not meet and by endangering others at the community. Additionally, the suit alleged that Spring Arbor did not have safety measures in place to address dementia-associated behaviors.

The legal action listed at least 27 incidents of Gunter hitting or physically threatening community residents and staff members. 

At the time of the incident, the state Division of Health Service Regulation ruled that the community did not supervise its residents, and it levied a fine. Prosecutors said they did not pursue criminal charges against Gunter due his diminished mental capacity.

HHHunt Property Management and Spring Arbor Senior Living had not responded to a request for comment from McKnight’s Senior Living by the production deadline, but following the filing of the lawsuit, Spring Arbor Senior Living Regional Director Randy Jackson released a statement to local media that read: “Our hearts go out to the family members of Mr. Garrett. Families entrust Spring Arbor of Wilmington with the care and safety of their loved ones, and we take that responsibility very seriously. Since 1997, Spring Arbor of Wilmington has offered personalized care to our seniors. Our policies and privacy laws prohibit us from discussing any of our individual residents of their needs. We can however, adamantly state that the accusation [attorney Joel Rhine of the Rhine Law Firm] has made about our care in our communities is untrue.”

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