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Assisted Living Giant Emeritus Ordered to Pay $23 Million in Wrongful Death

Elder abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight a recent verdict against Emeritus, an assisted-living giant that offers apartment living communities to seniors. The Sacramento jury ordered the company to pay $23 million in connection to the death of an 81-year-old woman.

Emeritus is the largest assisted living operator in the nation, with more than 50,000 units and annual revenue of more than $1.5 billion. This most recent lawsuit against the company was filed by the family of Joan Boice, a woman with advanced dementia who was allowed into the company’s senior apartments even though she was too debilitated for their care requirements. Boice should have been in a nursing home, where skilled nurses would have kept track of and properly managed her well-being.

According to the lawsuit, Emeritus left Boice at the mercy of only a few unqualified, untrained, and overworked employees. The results of this negligence were foreseeable and preventable, however, the company failed to take any action to avoid the tragic consequences. She was living in the memory-care unit of Emerald Hills in Auburn, California when she started developing bedsores, or pressure ulcers.

Bedsores are the result of immobility, being confined to remain in one position for an extended period of time. Over a three month span, Boice’s bedsores developed into deep, necrotic pressure ulcers. Because of her advanced dementia, she was clearly unable to adequately care for herself. After three months Boice was transferred to a hospice care unit in a skilled nursing facility – where she should have been in the first place – and died ten weeks later.

This is not the first case against Emeritus alleging inadequate care, and it undoubtedly will not be the last. In 2011, the executive director of an Emeritus facility in Texas was awarded more than $130,000 after he was forced out of his job. He was wrongfully terminated when he complained that the staffing cuts Emeritus was ordering rendered the care at his facility inadequate, leaving remaining employees unable to care for resident needs. One year earlier, an Emeritus facility in Orlando had its license cancelled when investigators found three residents with late-stage bedsores. These residents, like Boice, should have been moved to skilled nursing facilities long before their bedsores started to develop.

In 2007, the resident-care director of Emerald Hills, where Boice was living, wrote a five-page letter to ten of Emeritus’ top executives detailing the severe shortage of staff at the facility. She wrote that there were not enough employees to cover any parts of the day-to-day needs of the residents. There was not enough kitchen, housekeeping, med tech, or resident assistant employees. She believed that if California investigators came into the facility, the company would be in big trouble for its inadequacies.

The resident-care director never heard back from the executives. Meanwhile, Emeritus was painting an opposing picture of its care standards in its public relations and marketing materials. During the course of Boice’s trial, for example, it claimed it provided adequate care and faulted Kaiser Home Health for her degeneration. Kaiser was brought in to help Boice in her daily activities. One executive claimed that there was nothing Emerald Hills’ management could have done about her overall medical condition. He even went as far as to say that Emeritus was the real victim in the trial.

The company operates more than 480 facilities throughout the United States, and a partner company recently expanded into Asia. In 2005, Emeritus was hit with a similarly large verdict in a wrongful death case in Texas, to the tune of $18 million. It is becoming increasingly evident that Emeritus prioritizes its bottom line over the proper care of its residents. The results of this type of profiteering are devastating, and often involve the abuse and neglect of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

Senior abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins urge anyone with a loved one in an Emeritus-owned facility to watch for red flags of abuse or negligence. This often manifests through bedsores, which are associated with poor or nonexistent nursing care. If your loved one was seriously injured or passed away as a result of this type of negligence, you may be entitled to significant compensation, and should contact an attorney as soon as possible.