Polk County, FL- A Polk County, Florida man was awarded a $1.2 billion dollar settlement in a nursing home abuse case involving his mother who died after she was neglected at the Auburndale Oaks Health Center.
Isaac Ruiz-Carus’s mother, Arlene Townsend, fell 17 times during her three- year stay at the assisted care facility ran by Trans Healthcare, who was named as the defendant in the case. Ruiz-Carus’s attorney argued that Townsend was repeatedly neglected while at the facility until her death in 2007, according to the Daily Mail.
In 2007, Townsend fell and fractured her hip, but she was not taken to the hospital for care until a few days later. She died shortly after that fall.
In 2009, Ruiz- Carus filed a lawsuit alleging the facility was understaffed and diverted state and federal funds intended to help facilities pay for staffing and supplies to increase their profits. And in July of this year he won a significant victory.
Ruiz-Carus’s attorney, Bennie Lazzara Jr., characterized Trans Health as a greedy corporation that put their patient’s safety at risk.
“It was an enterprise of a conglomerate that took over a nursing home in Polk County and looted the assets of the company, short-staffed it, under budgeted it, and as a result, the nursing home residents were suffering,” Lazzara, according to WFLA. “Ms. Townsend was one of those nursing home residents that suffered and ultimately died as a result of those acts.”
After an hour of deliberation, the trial jury awarded Townsend’s estate an unprecedented $1.2 billion; $110 million for negligence pain and suffering. The additional $1 billion was for punitive damages which the jury said was designed to punish the nursing home for their negligence and greed.
Lazzara told the Ledger that the large settlement was a clear sign that nursing home abuse and neglect would not be tolerated, adding, “It’s one step in the fight, but it’s a significant one.”
Lazzara also said his client was pleased that the jury vindicated his mother’s life, “He is grateful that the jury saw the value of his mother’s life. To him, she was a treasure. The jury valued her the same way.”
A recent report from Americans for Better Care gave nursing homes in 11 states, mostly located in the South, failing grades. While nursing homes in Florida were not given a failing grade, they received low scores.
Americans for Better care noted that 1 in 5 seniors are neglected or abused in long-term care facilities in states that received low grades. Most of the neglect in nursing homes can be attributed to inadequate staffing.
“A distinctive trend differentiated the good states from the bad states,” Brian Lee president of Americans for Better Care said. “States whose nursing homes staffed at higher levels ranked far better than those with fewer staffing hours.”
Arlene Townsend’s story shows the consequences neglecting a senior in a long term care facility can have. The stunning amount that was awarded in Townsend’s abuse case along with the American’s for Better Care report should compel operators of nursing homes to improve their practices and offer better care for their patients.