The principal of a Texas assisted living and memory care operator says the company “vehemently” denies the claims made in a wrongful death lawsuit and will defend itself in court after an employee contracted COVID-19 and died from its complications.

Dallas-based Prevarian Senior Living, which owns The Arbor Assisted Living and Memory Care in Nacogdoches, TX, is being sued for wrongful death and gross negligence in the death of 12-year employee Monica Montgomery, a dietary supervisor.

The suit, filed in the 44th District Court of Dallas County, is being brought by Montgomery’s mother, Judy Montgomery, and Montgomery’s adult children, Taylor Garrette and Nya Patton. Patton also worked at The Arbor and contracted COVID-19 while pregnant.

The trio is seeking more than $1 million in damages and a jury trial. Their attorney does not believe Prevarian will be shielded from liability even if Congress passes lawsuit protections in a future coronavirus relief bill.

The lawsuit alleges that a resident infected with COVID-19 returned from a hospital stay on April 8, exposing to the virus caregivers who did not have adequate personal protective equipment.

Prevarian co-founder and Principal H. Dodd Crutcher told McKnight’s Senior Living that the company was “saddened to have lost one of our employees to this new and horrible virus that is wreaking havoc throughout the world” and said The Arbor, which has no active COVID-19 cases, prides itself on taking care of its residents and employees.

“We have implemented, and continue to implement, safety protocols in accordance with and as directed by state and federal guidelines in an effort to protect our residents and employees from the coronavirus,” Crutcher said. “As it relates to the lawsuit, we vehemently deny the claims made in the lawsuit and intend to defend ourselves in court. The lawsuit contains material factual inaccuracies that will be cleared up over time, but due to the pending litigation we cannot discuss further at this time.”

The lawsuit alleges that employees without adequate protection were assigned to sit with the resident for hours at a time. “Although precautions were taken to isolate the resident and those who attended her, employees were not warned of the resident’s illness and steps were not taken to protect them from infection,” the complaint states.

Of the six employees assigned to watch over the infected resident in April, four contracted the virus, including Monica Montgomery and Patton, who was pregnant at the time of her exposure. Both were tested after experiencing coronavirus symptoms and were found to be positive for the virus. Montgomery passed away from complications related to COVID-19 on May 10. 

Associations representing senior living and other long-term care providers are calling for legislation to protect healthcare providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits, except in cases of “gross negligence or willful misconduct.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said such protections for businesses are a priority for him.

Will Langley, an attorney with Houston law firm Williams Hart Boundas Easterby LLC,  representing the Montgomery family, told McKnight’s Senior Living, however, that he believes that such legislation would not protect Prevarian in this case.

“We have alleged in our petition that the defendant’s actions constitute gross negligence, and we therefore believe that our case would not be subject to legislation granting immunity to long-term care facilities from ordinary negligence claims,” he said.