Wednesday, July 11, 2012

After 2008 fall, elderly woman wins multimillion jury verdict over Bedford complex - Fort Worth Star Telegram

For 22 hours, 95-year-old Edna Anderson lay naked on the floor of her apartment in Bedford's Parkwood Retirement Community, an independent-living complex. Anderson said she had pulled an emergency alert cord, but the system didn't work and no one bothered to check on her when she didn't appear for meals.

Entering the apartment and finding Anderson cold to the touch, her daughter, Janet Duermeyer, was convinced that Anderson was dead until she opened her eyes and said, "I am so weak, I am so weak." Since the July 2008 accident, she has used a wheelchair.On June 22, a Tarrant County jury awarded Anderson damages totaling $2.2 million. The 138-unit Parkwood community, one of more than a dozen properties operated by Dallas businessmen John Neill and Steve Rush, will not pay more than $1.2 million because of state caps on punitive damages if Judge Ken Curry of the 153rd District Court accepts the verdict.A ruling is expected in coming weeks; Parkwood would then have at least 30 days to appeal or negotiate a lower settlement."We understand and respect the jury's decision even as we continue to believe that the services Parkwood provided were appropriate," said Parkwood's attorney, Timothy Ryan of the Schell Cooley law firm of Dallas. Ryan declined to say whether his client will appeal. He said neither Neill nor his partner in Telesis Management Corp. would return calls to the Star-Telegram.Neill, a licensed nursing home administrator with a Harvard MBA, testified that his portfolio of senior-living properties is worth more than $50 million and that his annual income is about $5 million. Earlier, Telesis disclosed that it carried $1 million in liability insurance on Parkwood, said attorney Mark Sudderth of The Noteboom Law Firm in Hurst, who represented Anderson along with colleague Brian Butcher. A philanthropist, Neill has raised millions for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research and the Vickery Meadow Youth Development Fund through an annual Dallas event, the GIBI Investment Symposium.According to Duermeyer's testimony, Anderson told her that she had undressed to get into the shower when her knees buckled and she collapsed on the bathroom floor. Unable to stand, Anderson dragged herself to the bedroom to summon help on an emergency alert system because she knew the one in the bathroom didn't work.Anderson pulled the cord three times, she told her daughter, but no one came.At some point, she soiled herself. Her arms and legs showed signs of carpet burns from having dragged herself through the apartment, her daughter said.Without food or water, Anderson drifted in and out of consciousness but awoke around midday, thinking that someone would realize that she hadn't shown up for lunch and would check on her. But no one appeared, the daughter quoted her mother as saying.Anderson didn't testify at the trial. She will turn 100 on Aug. 10, and her memory has deteriorated, Duermeyer told the Star-Telegram. She gave a deposition two years after the fall, portions of which were shown at the trial.Duermeyer and the facility's former maintenance worker, Howard Allred, testified that the housekeeper, Andrea Lauderdale, had separately informed them that she had reported to management before the fall that Anderson's emergency alert system wasn't functioning. But in her own deposition, Lauderdale said the device was working.Also in dispute was whether Parkwood had a practice of checking on residents who failed to appear in the communal dining room.Duermeyer said that was a major selling point when the family reviewed facilities seven years earlier, and the office staff reminded her of the practice on numerous occasions. Allred corroborated the testimony by saying Parkwood's cook had the responsibility of going to the apartments of residents who didn't come to a meal or hadn't called beforehand.But Mary Nafziger, Parkwood's manager, testified that it was not a practice but rather a "courtesy" to check on residents. Nafziger also said the emergency alert system was not a "safety feature" but was for convenience to let staff know, for example, that a toilet was backed up.Parkwood's website, however, says the facility is equipped with "24-hour monitored alarm systems."After the accident, Allred urged the facility to remove old alert system cords and buttons that no longer functioned, saying the elderly residents would be confused.In 2009, days after suffering a heart attack, Allred was dismissed for leaving the property with company equipment, including a compressor, he said. The North Richland Hills resident insists that he was sacked because he had complained about the equipment.Allred, 67, said he's unable to find work because of the dismissal although superiors, including Neill, knew for years that he had kept the equipment locked in his truck, which he considered safer than leaving it at Parkwood. Moreover, Allred said he used the equipment to fix Neill's and Nafziger's home air-conditioning units.Ryan, Parkwood's attorney, declined to say whether the nonfunctioning emergency system had been removed or to comment on Allred's firing.Duermeyer said her mother was adamant about taking legal action, quoting her as saying: "I don't want this to happen to anyone else. Parkwood let me down. It made me an invalid."Anderson, a bookkeeper and an active farmer's wife in her native Iowa, played golf into her late 70s and drove until her late 80s. Today, she wheels herself around a North Richland Hills nursing home where she reads the newspaper every day and plays a card game called "kings in the corner.""My mother never regained her health," Duermeyer said. "And she just clutches her [emergency] call button -- even when she's sleeping."Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718Twitter: @startelegram

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