Jury Awards Landmark $11 Million Verdict After Man Chokes On Foreign Matter At Assisted Living Home

A jury awarded a landmark verdict of $11 million to the widow of a 36-year-old man with traumatic brain injury who died after ingesting foreign objects while in the care of an assisted living facility. The verdict included $2 million for the decedent, $5 million for the wife and $4 million in punitive damages. It was the largest verdict ever awarded against an assisted living facility in the United States.

The decedent suffered a severe traumatic brain injury as a result of a car accident in 1996. He lapsed into a coma and was not expected to recover. Despite doctors' assessment that his condition was permanent, the man's wife refused to disconnect her husband's life support. He remained in a coma for 16 months before he began to slowly emerge. With his wife's nurturing and support, he slowly started to speak, albeit slowly. The wife worked with her husband day after day, using first-and second-grade reading and math textbooks and other elementary learning tools to stimulate his brain function and coax him to reach his full potential.

The wife devoted many hours per week to her husband's recovery, but she also had to work and was forced to turn to assisted living and residential facilities to provide the 24-hour care her husband needed. For years, she visited him faithfully on her days off, every Tuesday and Wednesday, checking him out of the facility and taking him home.

On April 7, 2006, the wife placed her husband in the facility in question. One month later - on May 7, 2006 - she received a call saying her husband had been vomiting. She rushed over to Liberty Manor, brought her husband home and gave him a bath. Within a matter of minutes, he began vomiting black matter and died in her arms.

Autopsy results showed a number of items - including plastic bags, unopened catsup packets, candy wrappers and paper towels - were found in his stomach and small intestines. The medical examiner determined these foreign objects were significant contributing factors to his death. The autopsy read in part, "hypertensive heart disease due to mechanical obstruction of the GI [gastrointestinal tract] from the foreign objects."

At trial, it came to light that the assisted living facility made numerous false entries in its charts with respect to the decedent's care, including notations of care on days when his wife had checked him out of the facility.For more, read the story.

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Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.

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