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Verdicts & Settlements

April 12, 2003

The Daily Journal

L.A. Superior Lancaster
HON Frank Y. Jackson

Topic: Personal Injury (Non-Vehicular)
Sub topic: Wrongful Death
Sub-sub topic: Failure to Protect

Bench decision: BENCH DECISION: Defense (summary judgment)

Plaintiff - William W. Green, Newport Beach
Defendant - Lynn J. Harris, Murchison & Cumming, Los Angeles
Defendant - Michael B. Lawler, Murchison & Cumming, Los Angeles
Defendant - Pamela J. Marantz, Murchison & Cumming, Los Angeles

Medical Experts:
Plaintiff - Marin S. Goldfarb M.D.
Plaintiff - Roxanne M. Wilson R.N., Woodland Hills
Defendant - Sheldon Reiss M.D.

Facts: The decedent, Darla Meacham, was a resident of the defendant's licensed Adult Residential Facility (ARF), the Odalys B. Perez Family Home. At the time of her death. the decedent was over the age of 18 and had no legal guardian, conservator, or other legal authority appointed. In the weeks before her death, the decedent had been to the hospital complaining of complications with her asthma. On the date of her death, the caregiver employed by the Perez Family Home had instructed the decedent to stay home from work. The decedent, who insisted that she had recovered from hospitalization and was able to resume work, refused to stay home. Shortly thereafter, the decedent, unbeknownst to the Perez Family Home staff, exited the home via the back door and boarded the shuttle (a service of the decedent's employer) that transported the decedent and other clients/residents to their workplace each day. It was not until she was boarding the shuttle that Perez Family Home staff and employees observed that she had left the facility premises. The plaintiff suffered a cardiac arrest that day and died. The plaintiffs, who are the decedent's husband, the decedent's brother and the decedent's estate, sued the decedent's employer, the decedent's co-workers and the Perez Family Home (and its operator) for wrongful death, alleging general negligence. The decedent's employer and the decedent's co-workers were dismissed from the case. The remaining defendants, Odalys B. Perez and the Odalys B. Perez Family Home, moved for summary judgment as to the entire action.

Contentions: The plaintiffs contended that the Odalys B. Perez Family Home, an ARF, was obligated to physically restrain the decedent and prevent her from working on the date of her death. Based on these allegations, the plaintiffs argued that the defendants owed and breached duties owed to the decedent and caused her death. The defendants contended that they had no duty to physically restrain the decedent against her will and that to do so would have violated the decedent's personal rights and freedoms. Specifically, the defendants argued that such restraint would have violated the rights guaranteed to the decedent in the "Personal Rights" statement that the decedent received, reviewed, and signed before becoming a client of the Perez Family Home. That document set forth the personal rights afforded to each client at facilities and homes such as the Perez Family Home. Those rights include the right to be accorded dignity in personal relationships with staff and other persons, the right to leave the facility at any time (with certain exceptions) and the right not to be locked in any room, building, or facility premises by day or night. The defendants contended that physically and forcefully restraining the decedent and holding her against her free will, in the manner that the plaintiffs had suggested, would be a violation of the laws of the state of California, the regulations governing ARFs and the decedent's personal freedom. The defendants further argued that the alleged acts of the defendants, even if true, would not have caused or even contributed to the decedent's death. Specifically, the defendants argued that the cardiac arrest causing the decedent's death would have occurred whether the decedent had gone to work that day or stayed home.

Result: The defendants' motion for summary judgment was granted on the grounds that the defendants did not owe the decedent any of the duties alleged and could not be liable to the plaintiffs for their alleged damages. In so ruling, the court found that the defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law because (a) there was no evidence to suggest that the defendants owed the decedent a duty to prevent her from going to work on the date of her death; (b) there was no evidence to suggest that the defendants failed to comply with the applicable statutory mandates and regulations governing the duty to observe the decedent, the duty to communicate with the decedent's doctors, social workers, etc., regarding the decedent's condition, or the duty to assist in instituting changes, when and if necessary, to the type of care the decedent received or in facilitating transfer, when and if necessary, to another type of facility; and (c) there was no evidence to suggest that the defendants breached any duty of care owed to the decedent.