© 2009 The Medical-Legal News
• The Gist: The autopsy findings in this case were outrageous, thus dispositive, and probably spurred the jury to award $4 million in punitive damages. Falsification of the medical record likely was an attempt to cover up the severely substandard care the plaintiff received.
PHOENIX, PRNewswire — An Arizona jury on March 20 awarded a 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 Liberty Manor Residency, a Phoenix 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 U.S.
“I want this to be a lasting victory for all individuals with TBI or other disabilities living in assisted living centers or group homes,” said Lydia Scherrer, widow of Earl Scherrer, who died May 7, 2006, at the age of 36.
Earl Scherrer 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 Scherrer’s condition was permanent, Lydia Scherrer refused to disconnect her husband’s life support. Earl Scherrer 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. Mrs. Scherrer 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.
Lydia Scherrer 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, Mrs. Scherrer placed her husband in Liberty Manor Residency, a facility that purported to provide 24-hour supervision of its residents.
One month later, on May 7, 2006, she received a call saying her husband had been vomiting. Scherrer rushed to Liberty Manor, brought her husband home and gave him a bath. Within a matter of minutes, he began vomiting black matter and died.
Autopsy results showed a number of items — including plastic bags, unopened catsup packets, candy wrappers and paper towels — in Scherrer’s 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 tract from the foreign objects.”
Lydia Scherrer, represented by Craig Knapp, of the Scottsdale law firm of Knapp & Roberts, brought claims against Liberty Manor for abuse and neglect, wrongful death and punitive damages.
At trial, it came to light that Liberty Manor made numerous false entries in its charts with respect to Scherrer’s care, including notations of care on days when Mrs. Scherrer had checked him out of the facility. Liberty Manor was also unable to produce Scherrer’s alleged caregiver, an employee named “Raul.”
The Sherrers were represented by Craig Knapp of Knapp & Roberts;firstname.lastname@example.org.