"Jury awards $1 million in punitive
damages in Laguna Hills nursing home trial"
The Orange County Register
State repeatedly investigated Laguna Hills center, including at the time of woman’s stay, records show.
By RACHANEE SRISAVASDI
Thursday, May 15, 2008
SANTA ANA – A jury Thursday awarded $1 million in punitive damages to the family of a 104–year–old woman who died after a short stay at Villa Valencia Health Care Center in Laguna Hills.
The judgment against the center’s owner, Virginia–based Sunrise Senior Living, comes two days after the same Orange County Superior Court panel rendered a separate $1 million verdict for negligence in the March 2005 death of Mary Kathleen Adams of Laguna Hills.
Sunrise Senior Living – which operates 440 senior homes in the U.S. and abroad – says it will appeal the decision.
The trial, which began in March, revolved around the physical decline of Adams, a retired teacher who admitted herself to the home after fracturing her leg.
Adams then developed pressure ulcers and was not given adequate treatment, such as daily skin checks, according to the lawsuit. She left the home after about two months, on Feb. 25, 2005, and died about two weeks later because of the ulcers, the lawsuit says.
Adams’ children, Janice Borkovetz and Wendell Adams, filed the wrongful death lawsuit that December. Among the allegations: Sunrise Senior Living purposely understaffed facilities in "a scheme to place profits over people."
On Thursday, Adams’ survivors said they were disappointed at the verdict. They had sought $36 million in punitive damages.
Juror Rory Paster, a 41–year–old engineering analyst who lives in Huntington Beach, said the jury wanted to "send a message that the company should do a better job of treating patients."
The panel decided against a larger sum of out fear other patients might suffer if the award was too large, Paster said.
"We tried to make a difference and we’ll continue trying,’’ said Borkovetz, a retired nurse who lives in Huntington Beach. "(My mother) didn’t get the treatment she deserved. We can’t let people be treated like that when they are old."
The trial also highlighted violations at the nursing home. Villa Valencia has been investigated by the state’s Department of Public Health – including during Adam’s stay at the home from December 2004 to February 2005.
In a Dec. 23, 2004 survey, the state agency faulted Villa Valencia for understaffing, failing to check the backgrounds of several staff members and conducting inadequate investigations into complaints by patients’ families.
The home was also cited twice last year, according to the nonprofit California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. The first involved a patient who was sexually molested by a nursing assistant while being bathed. The second involved a patient who developed a urinary tract infection because the patient’s catheter was not changed every month as required. Each citation carried a $1,000 fine.
"The Department of Health Services is supposed to be a watchdog for nursing homes,’’ said Kimberly Valentine, who represented Adams’ family. "And it didn’t happen in this case."
Lea Brooks, a spokeswoman for the state agency, countered that "the health and safety of California’s frail and elderly residents in nursing homes is one of our top priorities."
Records show that California has fined Sunrise Senior Living before. Sunrise Senior Living was ordered to pay $100,000 after the death of 87–year–old woman in June 2006 at another Sunrise property: The Springs at Carlotta in Riverside County. The woman died of severe constipation.
Register staff writer Courtney Perkes and news researcher Michael Doss contributed to this report.